Michigans November ballot will include a proposition asking us whether or not we wish to convene a Constitutional Convention in order to rewrite the states constitution. To suggest this is a bad idea is roughly akin to suggesting nuclear weapons might cause a little damage.
Our state constitution, one of the youngest in the country, was written in 1963. One article requires us to evaluate the document every 16 years and vote as to whether or not we want to rewrite it. In 1978, 78% of us said no. In 1994, 72% again rejected the idea. So, here it is again.
How does this process work? The devil really is in the details.
Vote yes on Proposal 2010-01 on November 2 and a cascading series of events are triggered. The first of those is another statewide primary election, likely in February, and then a general election in June, to elect delegates to a Constitutional Convention.
These elections will be fully partisan with each party nominating candidates, one from each State Representative district and another from each State Senate district. Sounds fun already, doesnt it?
Who will these delegates be? The most likely candidates are those with a built-in fundraising capability and a natural voting constituency. In other words, legislators and other professional politicians. If a sitting legislator is elected to be a delegate, the governor will have to appoint a replacement. Before weve even been able to catch our breath from the November barrage well get a repeat of the forests of signs, robo-calls, negative campaigning and other foolishness that accompanies these things. As a bonus, you might end up with an appointed legislator instead of whoever you just elected.
The issues on which theyll run are almost too frightening to even contemplate. Just imagine the worst idea you heard during the regular elections and then imagine that as part of the state constitution and youll get some idea of how terribly wrong this could all go.
Lets assume the voters, in their infinite wisdom, decide we need a new constitution and vote yes in November. And lets assume we somehow manage to get through the special elections and now have delegates. Just for fun, lets even assume weve not elected a coterie of miscreants and reprobates to write our new constitution. Now what?
First, the lobbyists will descend like locusts. This is a rare chance for special interest groups to get their pet projects actually codified in the states constitution. The temptation will be too great to pass up.
There are a couple of other details. Well be paying the delegates for this work. Well be paying for a place for them to conduct the work. Well be paying for the staff and computers and office furniture and letterhead and everything else theyll need. They will have a virtual carte blanche when it comes to spending.
How much? Early estimates are at least $45 million. It seems likely it will be more.
And our legislature will find itself in a bit of a pickle. Will the laws theyre passing be constitutional in two years? Will the new constitution itself resolve the problem for which theyve just enacted legislation? How in the world does any of this work? No one knows for sure.
To be fair, if you are absolutely confident the delegates to the Constitutional Convention will agree with you on most every social, economic, environmental and criminal justice issue, and youve no problem adding $45-$50 million to the states burgeoning budget deficit, this is a great idea. If, on the other hand, youre not that confident about the delegates or the spending or the actual need to rewrite our constitution, this could be a nightmare from which you will not wake for 16 long years or however long the delegates decide it should take before we get another crack at their new constitution.
Once they are done with their work and the special interests have been satisfied and the money spent, we will vote on whether or not to keep the new constitution or revert to the existing document.
Some who support this idea, like Gov. Jennifer Granholm, say we need a constitution that better reflects the reality that Michigan must move away from an industrial-based economy and into... well... some other kind of economy.
But we dont need a new constitution to accomplish that. To make the changes Granholm and others suggest, we need smart legislation, an occasional executive order from the governor and, if absolutely necessary, a constitutional amendment.
We dont need a new constitution or another contentious, partisan election or another wave of unanticipated multi-million dollar spending. We need new leadership with fresh ideas and an understanding that they work for us, not the other way around. We can accomplish that by making wise choices in the candidate races in November while rejecting Proposal 2010-01.