DENVER — With Democrats unable to broker a local-control compromise before the end of the legislative session, it’s only a matter of time before clipboard-wielding anti-fracking activists start accosting Colorado voters at their local King Soopers.
It won’t happen right away. The proposed initiatives have been appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court on challenges related to title, subject matter and language, and nothing is likely to emerge until late May.
At that point, the three groups promoting the measures will be locked in a race to gather 86,000 valid signatures from registered state voters by Aug. 4 in order to qualify for the Nov. 4 ballot.
The anti-fracking initiatives will also be competing for signatures in a crowded field of would-be initiatives on topics ranging from casino gambling to gay marriage. Another personhood measure has already qualified for the ballot, while a proposal to require labeling of genetically modified foods is now gathering signatures.
“There’s going to be a ton out there, everything from tail-docking to local control, guns and butter, all sorts of things,” said campaign strategist Rick Ridder, who’s serving as a spokesman for Coloradans for Local Control.
With their similar names, the three anti-fracking groups are easily confused, but they’re not working together and they each have their own unique take on the issue. Here’s a cheat sheet on who they are and how to tell them apart:
Coloradans for Local Control (CLC): This group was founded by Rep. Jared Polis, the multi-millionaire Democrat who had been relatively quiet on energy issues until he discovered oil-and-gas wells last summer near his vacation home in Weld County.
Now Polis has become the most visible anti-fracking Democrat in Colorado–and a burr in the side of pro-fracking Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. Former Polis aide Caitlin Leahy has submitted 15 initiatives, but Ridder says he only expects a few to move on to signature gathering: at least one on local control, one on mandatory setbacks between buildings and drilling operations, and the Environmental Bill of Rights.
Even with a shortened signature-gathering season, CLC should have no problem qualifying at least one initiative for the ballot, given that Polis is picking up the tab.
Colorado Community Rights Network (CCRN): At the opposite end of the financial spectrum is the CCRN, a low-budget, grassroots group of environmental activists led by Cliff Willmeng, who ran the successful Lafayette anti-fracking campaign in November.
Willmeng also has an extensive arrest record dating back to the 1990s, which could scare of funders.
The CCRN is sponsoring just one measure: the Colorado Community Rights Amendment, which would allow localities to supersede state and federal law in banning not just drilling, but any corporate activity. Proposed Ballot Initiative #75 also states that local measures are not subject to pre-emption by international, federal or state laws.
The CCRN has a national connection—it’s part of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund network—but so far that hasn’t translated into big bucks. A tireless campaigner, Willmeng is traveling the state with a power-point presentation, speaking to a few dozen activists at a time in order to drum up support.
Willmeng is relying on volunteers to gather signatures, which is generally a recipe for disaster in a statewide campaign. But he may not have a choice: At his Denver event, held last month at the Mercury Café, supporters passed the hat and were thrilled to collect $190.
Local Control Colorado (LCC): Don’t let the name fool you–Local Control Colorado appears to be the least local of the three anti-fracking groups, as well as the least transparent.
While its two named organizers were affiliated with the Broomfield and Fort Collins anti-fracking moratoriums, the group has been linked to national environmental groups Food & Water Watch, funded by the Park Foundation, Yoko Ono’s Artists Against Fracking, and Water Defense.
“Ono’s activist group, Artists Against Fracking, co-founded Frack Free Colorado, which in turn helped create Local Control Colorado to push statewide anti-fracking ballot measures,” said Simon Lomax, industry consultant and Energy in Depth spokesman in a May 2 article in The Energy Collective. “Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo, whose net worth is estimated at $20 million, also helped create Frack Free Colorado through his activist group, Water Defense.”
Clearly someone with fundraising experience is boosting Local Control Colorado. From its polished website to its already widespread online advertising, LCC has the hallmarks of a professional operation.
Local Control Colorado is sponsoring just one measure, proposed Ballot Initiative #82, which would allow localities to restrict oil-and-gas development within their borders. Even though the proposal hasn’t qualified for the ballot yet, the campaign already has a slogan: “Your Town, Your Call.”