Sunday, April 25, 2010

Do We Need and Want a Constitutional Convention?

The picture above was sent to me by a friend about a week ago and started me thinking. It was taken in 1990 during the Headlee Tax Cut Initiative. For those of you who do not recognize those in the picture Dick Headlee of the Headlee Amendment fame is on the left and the lady with the owl looking glasses on the right is me. It seems that a similar picture could have been taken a number of times over the years as I have worked on many Constitutional Amendments.

In November of 2010 we will be asked if we want to call a Constitutional Convention. According to the Citizens Research Council the State Constitution has been amended 31 times since it went into effect in January of 1964. The length of the document has increased from 19,203 to 36,525 words. We agree that a shorter more succinct version would be desirable, but we have to credit the courts and the legislature itself for making this necessary.

Every time the legislature tries to subvert the will of the people it becomes necessary to amend the Constitution in a way that allows little room to misinterpret the language. Because of their efforts, a common theme of the amendments has been to reduce the power of the legislature in favor of the citizens. It is not that we have abandoned the idea of representative government, it is that they have failed to take their obligation seriously. They don't even have the ability to pass a budget on time.

The legislature itself has placed issues on the ballot. As early as the mid 1890s they realized the need for ballot initiatives but it wasn't until the adoption of the 1908 Constitution that it became a reality. It was so restrictive that it was not very functional. It wasn't until the 1913 amendment to the Constitution that it took on its present form allowing constitutional, statutory and referendum amendments.

CRC Special Report on Michigan Constitutional Issues
Approval Rates by Decade
In the first three decades of the life of the 1963 Constitution, approximately one-third of the proposed
amendments were adopted, whether proposed by joint resolution (34.4 percent) or initiative petition
(33.3 percent). Since 1993, however, over three-quarters of the proposals have been adopted by the
voters, with 100 percent of the legislative proposals adopted and 42.9 percent of the initiatives passing.
All of the amendments proposed in 2004, 2006, and 2008 were adopted.

There is no need to call a Constitutional Convention. It took a lot of work and sweat to make the changes we have. We can not trust a hand full of political cronies to make decisions for all the people and legislators who had ideas accepted by the citizens of Michigan. There has been talk of limiting the referendum, expanding term limits and streamlining language that protects us from skirting the intent of the amendments. If the ideas are good they can presented one at a time for considered analysis and informed decision.

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