A right-to-work ballot measure cleared another obstacle Wednesday as backers turned in almost twice as many signatures as needed to put the controversial issue on the ballot in November. Delivering nearly two dozen boxes of petitions a day ahead of schedule, supporters of the initiative sent a clear signal they intend to press ahead with their campaign to outlaw arrangements that require nonunion workers to pay union fees if they are covered by collective-bargaining agreements.
"This is an exciting day for Colorado," brewery heir Jonathan Coors, a key proponent, said in a statement. "This amendment will give Colorado workers the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to join a union and protect the rights of all employees in the state."
Labor proponents note that Colorado law already requires workers to vote on whether they approve of the types of arrangements that the right-to-work measure seeks to eliminate.
A spokesman for Gov. Bill Ritter said there is still time for groups pitching various initiatives to back down ahead of the fall election.
"There are still opportunities to de-escalate this and get to a place where none of these measures appear on the ballot," said Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer. "The governor will continue the conversations he's been having and will talk with the business community and labor organizations and try to get there."
The right-to-work initiative's backers can withdraw at any time up until 33 days before the Nov. 4 election, according to secretary of state spokesman Rich Coolidge.
A group calling itself A Better Colorado brought the petitions to the secretary of state's office. Workers there began the process of stamping each of the petitions as they were unloaded from cardboard boxes. A random sampling to verify the signatures also will occur.
Campaign spokesman Kelley Harp said the group collected 133,000 signatures, more than the roughly 75,000 required to put the measure on the November ballot.
Accompanied by Republican lawmakers who have tried to pass similar legislation in the past decade, campaign workers arrived to oversee the handoff of 22 boxes of signed petitions.
"This day has been a long time coming," said state Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.
Harvey tried unsuccessfully seven times to pass a law that would have made Colorado a right-to- work state.
Absent were backers such as Coors, a fifth-generation member of the brewery dynasty. The group has launched a Web site, abettercolorado.com, with a list of business leaders endorsing the effort.
Among those throwing support behind the measure: CIBER Inc. CEO Mac Slingerlend, Colorado Springs real estate developer Steve Schuck, and Amy Sherman, president & CEO of the West Chamber in Jefferson County.
The Web site registration form reveals Jonathan Coors' involvement as far back as November, when he registered the site under the name Jonathan David, 123 Main St., AnyTown, Calif. 12345. He included an e-mail address that contained his first two initials and his full last name.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 7 entered the fray last week with five ballot proposals. They range from imposing annual cost-of-living increases for all workers to requiring employers to offer health coverage to all their workers. Another labor coalition called Protect Colorado's Future has proposed two other worker-friendly measures, including one that would make it harder for companies to fire workers without "just cause."
The coalition said it will continue to push for an investigation into the signature-gathering process of the right-to-work measure in Colorado.
"From what we've seen, we believe there is an extensive pattern of fraud," said Jess Knox, executive director of Protect Colorado's Future.
Among the group's concerns is the indirect involvement of a signature-collection firm called National Ballot Access, which handled the collection of ballot signatures for the anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives here and in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma measure was withdrawn last week after the secretary of state's office there reportedly found a large number of duplicate signatures. But the key supporter of that "preferential treatment" initiative, Ward Connerly, said campaigns always produce duplicate signatures and blamed a lack of time for the inadequate number.
National Ballot Access acknowledged there were signature gatherers who worked on the anti-affirmative action and the "right-to- work" campaign in Colorado.
"It's common . . . to share," said Heidi Verougstraete, who has worked in Colorado for National Ballot Access.
Verougstraete said Lamm Consulting has been the lead signature-gathering firm for right-to- work petitions.
The firm is led by Scott Lamm, son of former three-term Gov. Dick Lamm. Scott Lamm did not return three phone calls seeking comment on his role in the campaign.
All in the political family
A member of another prominent Colorado family has emerged as part of the campaign to push for a right-to-work initiative on the November ballot.
Scott Lamm, son of former three-term Gov. Dick Lamm, and his consulting company worked as the lead firm to gather the signatures required to the put the issue to a vote this fall.
Jonathan Coors, a fifth-generation member of the brewery dynasty, is a key backer of the initiative.