In general, it is considered inadvisable to write "DUH" in an e-mail to a media outlet when running a political campaign.
Don't bother telling that to the folks behind the statewide ballot initiatives labeled Amendment 60, Amendment 61 and Proposition 101, because they probably don't care.
It could be that they feel there's no way to lose a "tax cut" initiative in this political climate. Or, maybe, they think it better to shun the media. After all, if the public knows little about the measures, they may vote with their pocketbooks, without a second thought about complex or widespread implications.
Proponents have made headlines for campaign finance violations involving a mysterious benefactor and a bunch of shady e-mails from Douglas Bruce, the famed anti-tax advocate. Bruce, interestingly, has also recently testified in front of a grand jury about a "Mr. X" in a confidential case that might be related.
Supporters haven't exactly been advertising their message on every billboard. Instead, they're relying on rudimentary websites crammed with editorialized information.
So, perhaps it shouldn't have been surprising that when the Indy sent an e-mail to the campaign — asking rather generic questions about goals, philosophies, strategies and supporters — an anonymous proponent sent back this:
"These questions are silly. The campaign is about the issues, not the personalities. We want people to visit the main website, COtaxreforms.com. Then they should volunteer on line and donate. We are not going to publicize our strategy for our opponents to see; DUH!
"We don't poll because we don't tailor or distort our message to what people want to hear. Other answers are given at the home pages of the websites."
In a later e-mail, a proponent who identified herself as Natalie Menten said reporters ought to be satisfied mining information off the website, rather than talking with a real person. She went on to say that discussing political strategy — such as TV or radio ads — would amount to "political self-destruction."
In a normal election, violating the law, refusing to identify your supporters, and rudely disregarding media requests seeking information about your campaign might qualify as "political self-destruction."
But maybe not this time.
The road less traveled
"It may not be the worst campaign you've ever seen," says Colorado College political science professor Bob Loevy. "It may perhaps be the best."
Running shadowy campaigns helped make Douglas Bruce perhaps the most influential Colorado political figure of the past two decades, Loevy notes. Bruce managed to get the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights into the Colorado constitution, and TABOR has influenced state fiscal policy more than any governor.
Loevy says Bruce always uses the same strategy: Keep quiet and hope voters know nothing about a initiative until they read it on the ballot; ensure that the ballot question characterizes complicated initiatives as little more than tax cuts; and, if it doesn't pass the first time, try, try again.
It's worked before, Loevy notes, and with a recession fueling anti-government attitudes, it could easily work again.
"It may look like an inept campaign," he says. "I would not describe it as inept. I would describe it as most of his campaigns — subterranean."
Loevy isn't alone in thinking that it has a chance. Joshua Dunn, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs associate professor of political science, says Bruce and Co. probably don't need a great campaign this year.
"I do think, given the current political climate, that just about anyone proposing limiting government or cutting taxes has about a 20-yard head start in a 100-yard race," Dunn says.
All of which means Coloradans for Responsible Reform — a group opposing the measures — has its work cut out. Loevy says it'll need to get bipartisan support, and do anything and everything to educate voters.
"What [the opponents] have to do is try to divorce what's going on in Colorado from what's going on in Washington," Dunn says. "And maybe even play it up — say, 'You're justified in feeling angry about what's going on Washington.'"
Tried and true
Coloradans for Responsible Reform is covering its bases. Dan Hopkins, former press secretary for Gov. Bill Owens, is running that campaign, and quickly responded to calls and questions.
Hopkins' group has done polling and is reaching out to grassroots organizations, garnering support of top state Democrats and Republicans — including all the candidates for state treasurer, and gubernatorial candidates Scott McInnis and John Hickenlooper. Hopkins has plans for TV ads and other media campaigns after Labor Day.
A study shows that passing the ballot measures would eliminate about 73,000 jobs, including 8,000 K-through-12 teachers and many private-sector positions. The construction industry would lose at least $2 billion a year.
Also, Hopkins says, businesses would fold or relocate — ironically, leaving a bigger tax burden for those remaining.
Of course, none of this begets a simple campaign slogan. So the campaign has focused on educating small groups.
"We think this is going to be a battle that, in many ways, is won in the trenches," Hopkins says.
That is, if it can be won at all.
Hopkins says recent polling by his group shows that Proposition 101 and Amendment 60 are "tight," and there's support for Amendment 61, which would prevent the state from issuing bonds or other debt instruments. 61's ballot title repeatedly uses the word "borrowing" but never mentions "bonding," leading Hopkins to speculate that voters think the measure would prevent the state from amassing a deficit — though Colorado is already constitutionally required to have a balanced budget.
Three for 'me'
Amendment 60: Aims to lower property taxes. Among its changes: School districts will be required to phase out half their 2011 tax rates by 2020, and government enterprises, like Colorado Springs Utilities, would be required to pay taxes, likely resulting in increased rates.
Amendment 61: Limits state and local government debt by prohibiting many debt instruments. So major projects needing multi-year funding, including critical safety projects, cannot be undertaken unless the state can pay for them in cash.
Proposition 101: Cuts vehicle registration fees, state income tax, and telecommunications fees, costing state and local government billions in revenue, and hampering state and local road projects.