News Abortion

Colorado Anti-Choice Activists Submit Enough Signatures to Put ‘Fetal Homicide’ Measure on 2014 Ballot

Jason Salzman

If the secretary of state approves the signatures and the measure makes the ballot, political observers say it's unlikely to pass, just as "personhood" abortion bans were defeated overwhelmingly in Colorado in 2008 and 2010.

Activists led by Personhood USA submitted 139,650 signatures Monday to Colorado’s Secretary of State, over 50,000 signatures more than required to put their “fetal homicide” amendment on the 2014 election ballot.

At a news conference, backers of the measure insisted that this year’s campaign is different from “personhood” abortion bans, defeated overwhelmingly in the state in 2008 and 2010, which would have defined life in the Colorado Constitution as beginning at conception.

If this year’s measure makes the ballot, voters would be asked if they want to protect “pregnant women and unborn children by defining ‘person’ and ‘child’ in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings.”

In contrast, the 2010 personhood measure, also backed by Personhood USA , would have defined a “person” in the Colorado Constitution as “every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.” The 2008 measure was similarly worded.

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“This amendment by itself cannot ban abortion, but it recognizes that someone who kills an unborn child should be held accountable,” Jennifer Mason, a spokesperson for the amendment’s backers, told Rewire, adding that additional legislation would be required to ban abortion in Colorado.

But pro-choice advocates say the ballot language is so vague that, if passed, a judge’s interpretation of the phrase “unborn human beings” could lead to an eventual ban on some, if not all, abortions in Colorado, where abortion is legal throughout pregnancy.

In fact, Personhood USA assured its supporters in a July email that the measure was “personhood” in a different package.

“Just as we saw in years past, the new ballot language is misleading, deceptive and dangerous,” said Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, in a statement. ”When Coloradans know the truth, they vote to allow a woman to make decisions about her health with her family, her doctor, and her faith, and without intrusion from the government, courts or lawyers.”

Cowart says a 2013 Colorado law already allows law enforcement officials to press charges in cases where a pregnancy is terminated as a result of reckless or criminal behavior.

Personhood USA objects to this new law because it does not establish an “unborn baby” as a possible victim of a crime, only the pregnant woman. In fact, the law sidesteps the abortion issue and specifically does not “confer the status of ‘person’ on any human embryo, fetus, or unborn child at any state of development prior to live birth.”

“We saw him on the ultrasound,” Heather Surovik told reporters in front of the Secretary of State’s Office Monday, referring to her fetus, who died last year after a drunken driver struck Surovik and ended her pregnancy. “I knew he was a person.”

But Colorado law doesn’t recognize her fetus as a person, Surovik said, and that’s what she wants changed. So Surovik says she teamed up with Personhood USA to launch what they promote as the “Brady” Amendment, the name she intended to give her child.

Regardless of the impact of the proposed amendment on a women’s right to choose in Colorado, most political observers think it would be unlikely to pass, even with the new language.

“If there’s an improvement in this proposed ballot language versus that of 2010 and 2008, it is extremely incremental and at the margins,” Eric Sondermann, president of SE2, a political consulting firm, and a widely quoted political observer in Colorado, told Rewire. “Had these past elections been very close, two-point races, then incremental, marginal improvements in wording might matter. But given that the proponents have yet to even get to a minimal 30 percent threshold among Colorado voters, I’d suggest that their challenge extends way beyond framing and phraseology.”

“There are elements of the pro-life / pro-choice debate on which Coloradan voters are closely divided,” Sondermann added. “But the personhood proposal is not one of them. You can dress this one up with bells and whistles or word it in pig Latin and it will still be a non-starter.”

When asked why she thinks the amendment will pass next year, in light of past failures, Surovik said, “God has had a hand in this. By the grace of god, we’re going to get this on the ballot and get it passed.”

More than 500 churches and 1,000 volunteers were part of the organizing effort to collect the 139,650 signatures submitted Monday, said Don Veazey of Tri-Town Baptist Church, where Surovik is part of the congregation.

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has 15 to 20 days to determine if enough valid signatures were submitted Monday to put the amendment on the ballot.

Another Personhood USA-backed initiative narrowly failed to make the ballot last year.

News Economic Justice

Colorado Voters Could Get a Chance to Boost the State’s Minimum Wage

Jason Salzman

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees "far above" the required minimum wage in their location.

Colorado’s minimum wage would increase from $8.31 to $12 by 2020 if Colorado voters approve a ballot initiative that could be headed to the November ballot.

Patty Kupfer, campaign manager for Colorado Families for a Fair Wage told reporters Monday that Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, a coalition of groups, submitted more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of state, more than double the number required to make the ballot.

Hundreds of volunteers and dozens of organizations collected signatures, Kupfer said.

“Raising the minimum wage is fair and it’s smart,” Kupfer said. “It’s fair because people working full time should earn enough to support their families. It’s smart because when working people have more money in their pockets, they spend it here in Colorado, boosting our economy and helping our community thrive.”

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Speaking at the news conference staged in front of stacked boxes of petitions, Marrisa Guerrero, identified as a certified nursing assistant, said she works seven days a week and still relies on subsidized housing.

“Making $300 a week is not enough to pay rent and buy groceries for a family like mine,” said Guerrero, adding that she’d “really like” to see an increase in the minimum immediately, but “2020 would work wonders.”

After 2020, the state’s minimum wage would be adjusted annually for cost-of-living increases under the initiative.

Tyler Sandberg, a spokesperson for Keep Colorado Working, an organization opposing the initiative, appeared at the news conference and told reporters that he was “especially” worried about the initiative’s impact on small businesses.

“The big corporations, the wealthy areas of Denver and Boulder, might be able to afford [it], but small businesses, rural and poor communities, cannot afford this,” Sandberg told reporters. “So you are going to put people out of work with this. You’re going to harm the same people you’re trying to help.”

“It’s one size that doesn’t fit all. It’s the same for a small business as it is for Pepsi Cola,” said Sandberg, whose organization includes the Colorado Restaurant Association, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and the National Association of Independent Business.

Asked by Rewire to respond to Sandberg’s argument against a higher wage, Kupfer said, “Research shows small businesses support increasing the minimum wage. The truth is, when workers make more, that means more customers in local Colorado businesses. Both in rural and urban parts of the state, when working people do well, our communities thrive.”

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees “far above” the required minimum wage in their location.

“In my company, we have customer service representatives being paid $15 per hour,” Yoav Lurie, founder of Simple Energy, told reporters at the news conference. “While others might choose to pay customer service reps minimum wage, we have found that higher pay leads to improved performance and better retention and better customer satisfaction.”

Workers who rely on tips would see their minimum hourly wage increase by about 70 percent, from $5.29 to $8.98, while other workers would get a 44 percent increase by 2020. The initiative states that “no more than $3.02 in tip income may be used to offset the minimum wage of employees who regularly receive tips.”

Colorado passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 that bumped the minimum wage to $6.85. It’s been raised according to inflation since then.  The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and has not been increased since 2009.

Colorado’s Republican legislators killed legislation this year to allow cities to raise the minimum wage.

News Politics

Colorado Republicans Pick Anti-Choice County Commissioner for U.S. Senate Race

Jason Salzman

Darryl Glenn, an anti-choice Colorado Springs County Commissioner, defeated a pro-choice GOP rival and three other anti-choice Republicans in the race to take on pro-choice Sen. Michael Bennet in November.

In Colorado’s Republican senatorial primary Tuesday, Darryl Glenn, a conservative county commissioner from Colorado Springs, scored a decisive victory over Jack Graham, a former Colorado State University official, who stood out from the GOP field of five candidates for his atypical pro-choice stance.

Glenn received about 38 percent of the primary vote versus nearly 25 percent for Graham, who finished second.

Glenn made no secret of his anti-choice stance during the primary election, describing himself in interviews as an “unapologetic Christian, constitutional conservative” and supporting “personhood” rights for fertilized human eggs (zygotes), a stance that could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception.

Consistent with this, Glenn is also opposed to the Roe v. Wade decision.

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Glenn frequently brought up his faith in interviews. For example, Glenn broke out from his Republican rivals at the GOP state convention in April, where he gave an impassioned speech during which he discussed Planned Parenthood and opposing abortion ​before delegates voted him on to the GOP primary ballot.

Asked about the speech by conservative radio host Richard Randall, Glenn said, “Well, that wasn’t me. That was the Holy Spirit coming through, just speaking the truth.”

Seriously?” replied the KVOR radio host.

Absolutely,” Glenn replied on air. “This campaign has always been about honoring and serving God and stepping up and doing the right thing.”

Political observers say Glenn’s position on abortion, coupled with his other conservative stances and his promise never to compromise, spell trouble for him in November’s general election against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

“Glenn’s stance on abortion isn’t necessarily disqualifying,” Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report, which offers non-partisan election analysis, in Washington D.C., told Rewire via email. “Colorado has sent pro-life Republicans to the Senate. But, the cumulative effect of all Glenn’s conservative positions on social, economic, and foreign policy, as well as his association with Tea Party-affiliated groups and his lack of funding make it very, very difficult to see a path to victory for him.”

In the final weeks of the primary, Glenn was supported by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Glenn’s ties to the right wing of the Republican Party drew criticism during the campaign from GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He criticized Glenn for accepting the endorsement of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which gave Glenn $500,000.

Duffy doesn’t expect the race to be “very competitive,” an observation that aligns with the “Democrat favored” assessment of the race by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report. Last year, Bennet was widely considered one of only two vulnerable U.S. Senate Democrats.

“Darryl Glenn’s support for ‘personhood’ puts him on the wrong side of Colorado voters’ values, including many pro-choice Republicans and unaffiliated voters,” said Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, in an email to Rewire. “Support for reproductive freedom crosses party lines in Colorado, as demonstrated by the landslide losses by three ‘personhood’ ballot measures. Glenn’s chances of beating pro-choice champion Michael Bennet were already slim. This puts it closer to none.”

Glenn did not immediately return a call for comment.

In 2014, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is anti-choice, defeated pro-choice Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who hammered Gardner on his abortion stance throughout the campaign. 

Gardner threw his support behind Glenn Wednesday, reportedly saying to Roll Call that Glenn has fundraising challenges ahead of him but that he’s “winning when nobody expected him to.” And that, Gardner was quoted as saying, “bodes well for November.”