- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2003

DENVER — Peace will get a chance here in November when voters decide whether to approve a ballot initiative requiring city officials to reduce tension and promote “peacefulness.”

So far, however, the measure has done little except raise the stress level on the Denver City Council. The council agreed reluctantly Monday night to place the initiative on the Nov. 4 city ballot after activists collected enough signatures to force a citywide vote.

But they were hardly at peace with it. Councilman Charlie Brown called the measure “absurd,” while Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriguez quipped, “I’m getting stressed out over this bill.”

The initiative asks voters whether the city should “ensure public safety by increasing peacefulness — that is, by defusing political, religious and ethnic tension both locally and globally — through the identification and implementation of any systematic, stress-reducing techniques or programs.”

How? Its supporters recommend raising consciousness through Transcendental Meditation, as well as “wholesome food and herbal medicines, natural healthcare and exercise, holistic education and specific types of meditation and music, etc.”

Proponents of the measure collected 2,462 signatures, or 5 percent of the votes cast in the last mayoral election. City rules require the council to bring before the voters any initiative with enough valid signatures, although two members voted against it as a symbolic protest.

“The bottom line is that once the measure was approved by the elections committee, we were obligated by law to put it on the ballot no matter how we feel about it personally,” said Council President Elbra Wedgeworth.

Even so, Mr. Brown predicted yesterday that the initiative would be laid to rest at the hands of voters. “I can assure you that I’m at peace knowing that the people of Denver will vote this down,” he said.

Leading the peaceniks is Jeff Peckman, a member of the Natural Law Party who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate against Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Republican, in 1998. A product of the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, he heads Safety Through Peace, the committee that put the question on the ballot.

The committee argues that the root cause of war, violence and terrorism is social stress. “To reduce social violence, therefore — to reduce crime, warfare and terrorism, social stress and tension must be reduced,” the group says on its Web site.

In Denver, that could mean replacing the city’s office Muzak with the melodies of Maharishi Gandharva-Ved, whose music has been found to “neutralize stress and disharmony in the environment, and gently restore our biological rhythms by mirroring the cycles of nature that underlie each hour of the day and each season of the year,” the committee said.

At the same time, any stress-reducing strategies would need scientific foundations. The initiative states that the technologies must be “scientifically shown to reduce society-wide stress, as measured by reduced crime, accidents, warfare and terrorism.”

“People in government are in most instances in a crisis-management mode and don’t recognize strategies that will reduce stress and save the city money, especially scientifically validated strategies,” Mr. Peckman said. “We wanted the extra force of a ballot initiative to put this forward.”

It’s a nice idea, said Mrs. Wedgeworth, but implementing such strategies would be an administrative nightmare.

“I’m all for peace, but this is too broad and too vague,” she said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions, from staffing to costs. Nobody knows what the financial impact would be on the city.”

What’s more, one man’s peacekeeping strategy could be another man’s declaration of war.

“There are 1,700 people working in the Wellington E. Webb Office Building,” Mr. Brown said. “Who’s going to choose the music? Personally, I like Hank Williams — that would relax me.”

There is also the matter of the measure turning Denver into a laughingstock. “Can you imagine coming to the city of Denver to apply for a sewer permit and hearing all this chanting?” Mr. Brown said.

Even before the vote, the initiative has raised consciousness on the potential for abuse in Denver’s election laws. City officials need to consider raising the number of signatures required for ballot measures, Mr. Brown said.

“We’ve got serious ballot issues to deal with this year, like school bonds and legalized gambling,” the councilman said. “We don’t want to turn into California.”

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