What do you think? Would that be a good idea? “Absolutely not,” I told her in 1994. “Our constitution works pretty well and is only about thirty years old. If we try to write a new one, we risk getting a convention full of delegates who are single-issue voters; labor union hacks, right-to-lifers and anti-gun control fanatics.”
The vast majority of voters then agreed. But I have completely changed my mind. The present system is broken and under the present rules, is unlikely to be fixed.
We have a mess now in Lansing. Term limits have destroyed all institutional memory and nearly all chance of bi-partisan cooperation.
Our constitution, a fine, state-of-the art document in 1963, has become weakened by too many amendments. That’s happened because, these days, it is all too easy for special interest groups to come into Michigan and pay people to collect signatures to put proposed laws and constitutional amendments on the ballot.
We saw that dramatically affect our policies on affirmative action and domestic partner benefits. Most of all, we’ve seen the constitution and the legislature fatally weakened by the worst system of term limits in the country, something else that came about through a constitutional amendment, one that most voters thought was meant to apply to federal officeholders, like congressmen.
The way it works now, you can serve only six short years in the house and eight in the senate, and then you are barred for life.
Not only does that mean that and nobody has much experience at the complex task of governing, it means that our lawmakers spend their last year on the job looking for their next job.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, for example, wants and needs the Republican party to nominate him for attorney general this year. That’s not even a decision voters get to make.
The party does it. That is bound to affect the actions Bishop is taking now in the legislature. Well, this year we have a golden opportunity to fix things. We will again be asked, as we are asked every sixteen years, if we want to call a constitutional convention.
For the last two years, I have been urging people to strongly consider this. At first, most looked at me like I was nuts. But as state government has floundered, more and more are coming to reluctantly agree. Yesterday Gov. Jennifer Granholm publicly endorsed the idea of a Constitutional Convention.
State Sen. Tom George, a deeply conservative Kalamazoo Republican, also thinks we need a con-con. If the voters say yes in November, then we all get a chance to elect the right delegates to write it in the spring. And the process has a safety net.
If they write a new constitution that is worse than the old one, we can always vote it down. We live in one of the most beautiful and compelling states in the union, and it is in trouble.
We owe it to ourselves, our children and our Michigan to fix it.