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Taking initiative

Groups want pot, gay marriage, immigration, property rights on November ballot

Ted Haggard and Tim Gill are at odds over gay marriage - and domestic partnerships. - PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY KATHY CONARRO
  • Photo illustration by Kathy Conarro
  • Ted Haggard and Tim Gill are at odds over gay marriage and domestic partnerships.

At least six measures are gaining steam toward the November ballot, backed by a wide array of influential groups and grassroots activists dissatisfied with the status quo.

If those pushing the proposals have their way, in 2007 marijuana possession will be legal; land-hungry developers will have a harder time grabbing homes on the Front Range; and state welfare officials might give undocumented immigrants the cold shoulder.

And, setting the stage for what is expected to be an expensive battle over gay rights, Coloradans for Marriage has formed a coalition backing a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage as being between "one man and one woman."

Marryin' kind

Meanwhile, gay-rights advocates and Democrats are pushing a referendum in the state Legislature to allow domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

Rick Ridder, a spokesman for Coloradans for Fairness and Equality, says the distinction is needed to eliminate legal gray areas for gay and lesbian couples, such as those related to child custody after a breakup, or participation in medical decisions involving an incapacitated partner.

On the other side, Jon Paul, executive director of Coloradans for Marriage, says the language for the marriage amendment hasn't been finalized. He adds that although its supporters generally don't favor domestic partnerships, they are unlikely to target those.

Ridder notes that both measures could pass and not conflict with each other.

"It's not ideal, but it could happen," he says. "At least it would advance some rights in Colorado."

Software mogul Tim Gill is backing Ridder's group financially, while Colorado Springs evangelicals Ted Haggard of New Life Church and officials with Focus on the Family are expected to support the coalition proponents of the marriage amendment.

Fired up

Marijuana smokers and their supporters are stoked after winning their battle to relax marijuana laws in Denver last year. Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), which sponsored the Denver measure, now plans to ask voters across the state to legalize the possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana by Coloradans 21 years or older.

Their pitch? Research shows that marijuana is a safer "recreational drug" than alcohol.

"We shouldn't be encouraging people to drink alcohol as we do with billboards around town but then we've decided it's not even OK to use marijuana at all," says Mason Tvert, the group's campaign director.

After the Denver measure passed, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said state law trumped the wishes of Denver voters and called on police in that city to enforce the state's more stringent marijuana laws.

Tvert says the ballot initiative would change state law.

Suthers opposes the initiative, says his spokeswoman, Kristen Hubbell.

Out of service

Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm is pushing a constitutional amendment to deny all but emergency-room care and public-school education to anyone who cannot prove he or she is a U.S. citizen or legal resident.

"It is one way where Colorado can express its indignation with illegal immigration," Lamm says.

A public policy expert at the University of Denver, Lamm is a member of Defend Colorado Now, the group backing the amendment.

Lamm blames undocumented workers for forcing down average wages in Colorado while also draining the state's limited budget for social services.

Manolo Gonzalez-Estay, campaign director for Keep Colorado Safe, which opposes the amendment, agrees with Lamm that illegal immigration is a problem. Yet he fears the amendment is more a symbol of frustration over illegal immigration than a viable solution.

"It will actually cost Coloradans millions of dollars to implement, and will keep us in the courts for years," he says.

My way or the tollway

A citizens' group in the plains east of Colorado Springs is gathering signatures for an initiative it says would protect private property.

The initiative strips the government's eminent domain powers if the transaction appears to benefit an individual or corporation, or a city's tax collections.

"We don't think greed should play a role in these transactions," says Chuck Shaw, who lives in Peyton and is co-chair of the Eastern Plains Citizens Coalition.

The group formed after a developer announced plans last year to ask the state to use its eminent domain powers to secure land for a north-south toll highway between Fort Collins and Pueblo.

The Colorado Municipal League, which advocates the interests of local governments, including Colorado Springs, says the initiative is too sweeping. Erin Goff, a staff attorney for the organization, says the measure essentially would put urban renewal authorities out of business, eliminating the government's power to spark the economy by redeveloping rundown areas.

"As it is, if there's an area of town that's dilapidated, it can be turned around using blight powers," she says.

-- Michael de Yoanna

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