I’m having a hard time keeping up with all the proposed constitutional amendments bandied about in the Minnesota Legislature. The count of proposals may reach as high as a dozen, but — hey — the session is young.
Is this really necessary? We have had only two amendments since 2000, according to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. During the 1990s, voters adopted six amendments and rejected one. Now, we have this deluge. If proponents have their way, our constitution will look like a bulletin board covered with sticky notes.
A constitutional amendment should be a big deal. Ideally, it expresses large principles, but the proposals now under consideration seem more like shackles intended to permanently affix the electorate to a narrow ideology. Here is a sampling:
» The marriage amendment will be on the November ballot. It defines marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.
» The Voter ID proposal would require voters to present a valid photo identification at the polls.
» The so-called “right-to-work” amendment would outlaw mandatory union membership.
» The supermajority amendment would require a 60 percent legislative majority to raise taxes.
At a time when our state faces such challenges as how to prepare a sophisticated workforce to meet the needs of business and industry in competition in a global economy, these proposals do not address any specific problems. Instead, they suggest a mistrust of government by the very people entrusted with the responsibility to govern.
If I were a cynic, I might think these proposed constitutional amendments are a deliberate distraction designed to rile people.
Consider the marriage amendment. Minnesota law already prohibits same-sex marriage. Yet here we are, pouring money and energy into efforts to either pass or defeat the amendment. Come November, what will we have accomplished? Minnesota law will still prohibit same-sex marriage.
Now consider the Voter ID proposal. One might imagine that it addresses a serious problem of voter fraud. There is no such problem. Not only is this proposal a solution in search of a problem, it will create problems for people who have a right to vote. That runs counter to Minnesota values.
One rationale for the “right-to-work” amendment is it will attract business investment. In fact, its authors have contrived an appealing name — the “employee freedom” amendment. I have another name for it — “the union-busting guaranteed lower wages” amendment. I have lived in right-to-work states, and their standard of living falls short in comparison with the standard enjoyed by Minnesotans. If we need to find ways to improve our business climate, let’s not do it at the expense of our workers.
The supermajority proposal is another conundrum. In Minnesota, approval of constitutional amendments requires a simple majority. Yet this proposal would impose a higher standard in the Legislature to decide tax policy. Anyone who thinks this is a good idea must love the gridlock we see in our nation’s capital.
Aside from the merits of these individual proposals, here are some questions to consider. Will they make us a better state? Will they improve the quality of life for our citizens? Will they help position Minnesota in the global marketplace? Finally, why this sudden rush for multiple amendments?
Lawmakers have a duty to enact laws for the benefit of the state, and they are accountable for those laws. Government by constitutional amendment is an irresponsible sidestep and a wasteful sideshow that hurts our state.
The legislative session opened with pledges of goodwill. That lasted about a half-hour. There also were predictions the session would end early. Now that’s the best idea I’ve heard from St. Paul all year. It’s certainly better than following the Wisconsin model for governmental self-destruction.
Minnesota has an enviable record of high political participation, and that is our great strength in governance. We have citizens who are passionate about issues from all sides. Ultimately, we are a practical people, and we need to send a practical message to our elected leaders. Stop fiddling with the constitution and focus on real problems. The voters should expect nothing less.
This is the opinion of Glenda Burgeson, a writer and editor at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University.