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As judge dismisses lawsuit against Colorado Blue Book, a second group accuses the election guide of being unfair

Posted at 9:31 PM, Sep 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-12 00:21:47-04

DENVER — A Denver district court judge has dismissed a lawsuit requesting an emergency restraining order against Colorado’s election guide, which is also known as the Blue Book.

The guide is meant to provide voters with a nonpartisan overview of the questions that will be appearing on their ballots, arguments for and against those questions, and a cost analysis.

The plaintiffs of the case claimed the language used to describe Amendment B, which is an effort to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, was biased and unfair.

They blamed the Legislative Council Committee, which is composed of 18 members from the Colorado state legislature, for making sweeping changes to the election guide’s language on Sept. 3.

Numerous changes were made to the description of the proposed repeal, including a title change and several other major rewrites.

The plaintiffs called for a judge to intervene and change the language back to what the staff of the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Council had originally suggested.

However, on Friday, Judge Martin Egelhoff dismissed the lawsuit, saying he doesn’t have subject matter jurisdiction and that the separation of powers doctrine does not allow him to overrule the Legislative Council Committee’s decisions on the Blue Book.

Judge Egelhoff cited at least four previous cases in Colorado that posed similar questions to the courts and said each was dismissed on similar grounds.

Afterward, the plaintiffs in the case told Denver7 they were disappointed with the decision but said it wasn’t totally unexpected.

“They’ve created a situation where the legislature can lie in the Blue Book and put in whatever they want in there and they have absolutely no recourse,” said Clay Vigoda, a campaign manager for Protect Our Homes Colorado.

Vigoda says the group is now looking to see whether there are any other options they can take.

Former Colorado House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, meanwhile, said she worries about how this dispute will affect the credibility of the Blue Book.

“Jurisdiction is difficult, separations of powers is a very strong precedent in this state and should be, so we didn’t win this one but I think it was worth taking this to court because we’re really talking about what’s fair and unbiased for the citizens of the state of Colorado,” Hullinghorst said.

Attorneys who represented the defense, meanwhile, said the judge made the right decision and that the changes for this section of the Blue Book had significant bipartisan support.

“The complaint didn’t have merit, and this was basically what appears to be a political stunt,” said Ben Larson, an attorney representing the side arguing against the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jack Tate, a Republican who represents Arapahoe County and who helped craft the bill to bring the question of repeal onto the November ballot, said the lawsuit itself was an attempt to deceive and distract voters.

"This bogus lawsuit being tossed out was as easy to predict as sunshine after a storm," said Sen. Tate in a statement.

On the same day the lawsuit was dismissed, a second group is now accusing the Blue Book of omitting information and being biased in its review.

The Bad Deal Colorado campaign opposes Proposition EE, which asks for an increase to nicotine taxes in the state and for vaping products to be included in those taxes.

“The ballot language doesn’t reflect everything in the bill. This thing has been Christmas treed to death. We have no idea who gets what and how. There’s no guarantee that the money will ever reach education or pre-K,” said Michelle Lyng, a spokesperson for the campaign.

They accuse the Blue Book of leaving out who will be most affected by the tax increase on nicotine products, how long it will take for money to be made available to schools and where the money will go initially.

The group also says there was not enough of a public comment period on the ballot initiative itself or the Blue Book wording.

“I think there’s an inherent conflict of interest when the people who put this initiative on the ballot are editing the nonpartisan information in the book,” Lyng said.

Unlike Amendment B, the Legislative Council Committee did not make changes during its Sept. 3 meeting to the language proposed by the Office of the Legislative Council.

“The Legislative Council and our staff take the responsibility of crafting the Blue Book and helping voters understand the issues before them very seriously,” said Democratic Rep. Alec Garnett, defending the Blue Book language process.

One amendment was proposed by Republican Sen. Vicki Marble to clarify what the initiative would do in terms of minimum price revenue allocations, but it failed to garner the two-thirds vote needed to make a change.

"The Legislative Council was well within its authority. With broad bipartisan support, we ensured the language in the Blue Book was clear and easy for voters to understand. Regardless of how you feel on the issue, this was the job of the Legislative Council, and that’s what we did," said Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Democrat who represents Adams County.

For now, both groups questioning the language of the Blue Book say they are working to get their message out to the voters, but believe the election guide description made their jobs more difficult.

The deadline to start sending the election guide to the printer in time for the election was Sept. 10, however the Colorado Legislative Council staff said the one-day delay shouldn’t affect its delivery or require expedited printing or shipping.

This year’s election guide will be roughly 120 pages long.