By Tim Hoover of the Denver Post….
Supporters of an initiative that would ask voters in November to raise taxes for education are using an online, grassroots strategy to gather signatures that could revolutionize the petition process.
“It is the first time that I have seen this kind of tactic,” said veteran ballot-issue consultant Rick Reiter. “I’m watching it closely because I could learn a lot.”
Great Education Colorado Action is the political arm of Great Education Colorado, a group that urges more spending on education, and it has sent e-mails to supporters and turned to social networking to jump-start a signature-gathering drive for Initiative 25.
That proposal would, for five years, raise state sales taxes from 2.9 percent to 3 percent and hike the state’s income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent. If voters approved it, the proposal would generate an estimated $3 billion for K-12 and higher education.
Supporters say the tax hikes are needed to offset three years of deep cuts to education spending.
Critics say Coloradans are in no mood for a tax increase and the proposal would kill jobs during an economic recovery. Republicans have been the most vocal critics, but many Democrats have been silent on the proposal, and Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has repeatedly said Coloradans have “no appetite” for a tax increase.
The initiative filed by state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, doesn’t have the support so far of the state’s major business or education groups. That means the six-figure sums that are usually required to hire companies to conduct petition drives may not be forthcoming.
So supporters are trying a strategy that uses social network websites to ask people to sign the petitions. Supporters have set up a website that allows people to download petitions and then volunteer to gather signatures.
The kit includes instructions on how to gather 50 signatures to fill each petition and even how to properly staple the pages. It instructs volunteers to seek out a notary after gathering the signatures and then to return the signed petitions to supporters in Denver.
Every petition must bear an individual number, and the website where they can be downloaded assigns each one a unique number.
“The conventional wisdom is you need a lot of money to get something on the ballot,” said Lisa Weil, spokeswoman for Great Education Colorado. “Well, we don’t have that. What we’ve got is tens of thousands of education supporters who care about schools and affordable higher education.”
Instead of standing outside a supermarket, Weil said, volunteers can seek signatures on a more personal level. This closer-knit connection also will allow volunteers to better educate others about funding cuts for schools and colleges.
The hurdle to get an initiative on the ballot isn’t small. Supporters will have to gather the valid signatures of 86,105 registered Colorado voters, a benchmark that usually means circulators aim for as many as twice that number of signatures just to be safe.
“I think that the structure of what they’re doing has potential here,” said Reiter, the consultant, “but like all these things, when you need 11,000 people engaged in it, the management and the direct contact with those people will dictate whether this works or not.”
He added: “Hopefully 11,000 people have staplers. Because if you don’t staple it right, you’re done.”
Filed under: Advocacy, Education, Grassroots, Politics | Tagged: Ballot Initiative, collecting signatures, colorado, denver post, Education, Grassroots, great education colorado, great education colorado action, initiative 25, john hickenlooper, petition drive, rick reiter, rollie heath, Senator Rollie Heath, tim hoover | Leave a comment »