Monday, January 23, 2012

Amendment politics: how many and which ones?

The over/under on the number of constitutional amendments on Minnesota's 2012 ballot is 3.5. Do you want the over or the under?

We know that there will be one (assuming that the DFL effort to remove the marriage discrimination amendment from the ballot fails), but how many more are on the way? According to Rep. Steve Drazkowski, many more:
How many pages will be added in 2012?
"We have these conservative majorities in the House and Senate at the same time, and that has not existed for 39 years," said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who's pushing both the supermajority and "right to work" amendments. "So these are proposals where there hasn't been an opportunity to place them in front of Minnesotans for a very long time."
Republican members of the Legislature are governing as if they know they won't be in power for another 39 years. They have good reason to fear losing their grip on the Legislature, given the news from the last couple of months. So rather than trying to win their own elections, they've resolved to re-un-level the playing field to ensure their return to minority party status will be accompanied by more tools to block what they don't like. Or, in the case of the "right to work for less!" and Voter ID amendments, to change the electoral landscape in ways that favor the GOP.

One issue that is often lost when discussing the "amendment version" of legislation like Voter ID or the union-busting "right to work" laws is that the nature of constitutional amendments do not permit detail and nuance. The constitutional amendments will be short, declarative statements, and it will be up to the courts to interpret them. For example, the Voter ID bill that was vetoed by Governor Dayton wasn't simply a Voter ID bill. It would have radically reshaped Minnesota's electoral system, forced the use of provisional ballots, and contained dozens of provisions that cannot be contained in a constitutional ballot question. In several ways, the Voter ID amendment is preferable to the Voter ID legislation that Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer was carrying last session.

But back to our bet. How many amendments? I'm taking the over:
The "Bradlee Dean/Amy Koch Sanctity of Marriage Amendment" is already on the ballot, and it isn't going anywhere. 
The Voter ID crusade of the Minnesota GOP and their fellow traveler James O'Keefe III is very likely to be on the ballot. 
The scuttlebutt around the Capitol was that a "supermajority to raise taxes" amendment was the price of the budget deal for number of conservative first-term legislators. It will be there too. That's three.
I said I was taking the over, but I don't think that #4 will be a "right to work for less" amendment. The GOP is already leery of the amount of resources and energy that will be generated by the opposition to the anti-marriage amendment. Adding a union-busting provision would ensure that Minnesota's 2012 election would look like Wisconsin 2011.

I'm going with the Judicial Elections amendment (The "Impartial Justice Act") that has been pushed since 2005, after a Supreme Court decision changed the rules for judicial elections. This is a good idea that has bipartisan support. But in this case, the appeal of this amendment to someone focused on passing the GOP amendment agenda is that it prevents a campaign of "VOTE NO ON EVERYTHING!" Adding a reasonable amendment in the midst of the ideological ones complicates the ability to campaign against them. That's why I think it will finally make it onto the ballot in 2012 - for the wrong reasons, and in service of somebody's unrelated agenda.

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