When Joe Parker was a young, newly married public-school administrator who wanted to buy a home in 1974, he didn’t even think about leaving Prince George’s County, Maryland. It was where he and his parents had grown up. But when Parker first tried to bid on a house in a new development in Mitchellville, a small farming community that was sprouting ranch and split-level homes on old plantation lands, the real-estate agent demurred, claiming there were other buyers. In truth, the development had been built to lure white, middle-class families to the county, which sits just east of Washington, D.C. Parker never told the agent that he served on a new county commission to enforce laws forbidding housing discrimination. He just persisted, he says, until he and his wife were able to bid. “My wife kept saying, ‘Why don’t you tell him?’” Parker recalls, but he refused to pull rank. “I said no, because what does the next black man do?”
Many states have provisions designed to limit the amount of taxes their legislatures can raise, but only Colorado has gone so far as to pass the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Known as TABOR, Colorado’s unique constellation of confusing laws prevents the state legislature from raising taxes without public approval and caps the amount the government can spend in a way that’s designed to shrink it over time. All levels of government—city, county, and state—are limited in what they can spend by a complicated formula, which basically indexes revenue to inflation plus population growth. If the tax revenues the state and local governments collect in any given year are higher than the cap, which happens in good economic times or when there is an influx of new residents, states and cities are required by law to refund taxpayers. Over the years, more than 80 cities have passed local referendums to relieve their governments from some of the burdens of TABOR. Last week, Denver voters passed, by a margin of 74 percent to 26 percent, a referendum that allows the city to keep the surplus money it has already collected and spend it. The referendum they voted for is called “de-Brucing,” named after the law’s anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce. (On the state level, a de-Brucing referendum passed in 2005.) The city argued that without de-Brucing, it would no longer be able to provide basic city services; it hadn’t trained a new firefighter or police officer class in four years.
I spent all of yesterday traveling from polling place to polling place with election observers from a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called Colorado Common Cause. Its volunteers don’t care whom people vote for, they just want all voters to be able to vote. The Republican secretary of state, Scott Gessler, had made some efforts to keep mostly Democratic groups away from the polls. He sent out letters asking many Hispanic voters to provide proof of citizenship—which they’re not required to do—and his office did not send mail-in ballots automatically to any voter who missed the 2010 midterms. The Latino vote, in turn, devastated the GOP here.
In Colorado, polling shows that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are still neck and neck. Both campaigns are fighting for every vote, and held campaign events only 50 miles apart Thursday.
In the morning, Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan visited Greeley, a city of almost 93,000, where local county commissioner Sean Conway warmed up the crowd. By the time early in-person voting ends today, the secretary of state estimates that 80 percent of voters will already have voted, either at the booth or by mail. Conway asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had already voted, and said, “Well, then, I have another assignment for you.” The crowd laughed when someone asked, “You want us to vote again?” Conway laughed, and said no. “We’re Republicans. We follow the law, right?”
By the time President Bill Clinton walked into the gym at Adams City High School in Commerce City, Colorado, the crowd was ready. Just before 6 p.m., the former president entered the stage; the students and faculty soaked him with wild applause, bringing out the familiar Clinton smile that feeds on such adoration. He thanked the school’s principal and superintendent, cracked a few jokes about being on the campaign trail, then turned serious. “I am more enthusiastic about President Obama this time than I was when I campaigned for him four years ago,” he said. “I’d like to tell you why.”