It was gratifying to see Civil Beat start a conversation about whether to approve a constitutional convention on our November 2018 ballot. It’s been 40 years since our last convention and a few changes are a good idea.

But your recent calls for voters to approve such a convention deserve scrutiny. In your Dec. 18 editorial you mention many issues that enjoy widespread community support including citizen initiative, referendum and recall, term limits for legislators, a statewide lottery, all-mail voting and medical aid in dying.

Yes, legislators can be very slow to act on community consensus; all these proposals merit continued attention from the Legislature. But which of these issues justifies holding a constitutional convention?

Our constitution is supposed to be the guiding governance document for our state, one which sets general rules within which our laws can be adopted, while protecting the rights of citizens. This means having guidance which is clear and concise, not a substitute for statutes or rules which might better address the details of specific problems.

For example, voting by mail (which I personally work very hard to promote) is a change in how elections are administered, not a fundamental governance principle. It shouldn’t take a constitutional amendment to launch this.

Let’s Consider The Cost, Too

It impressed me that your polls show 67 percent of voters think it’s time for a new constitutional convention, and only 14 percent oppose having a con con. Citizens can already ask legislators to introduce legislation proposing amendments, and citizens can lobby for their adoption. Presumably this poll indicates voters are unsatisfied with amending the constitution through the Legislature.

We don’t know the cost of such a meeting, and our current constitution does not specify the number of delegates required.

In an August 2008 report, a community Constitutional Convention Task Force estimated a 2008 convention would have cost $2.3 million to $11.1 million, depending largely on the number of delegates. Adjusted for inflation this might be about $8.6  to $41.5 million in 2018.

We hope the 2018 Legislature will authorize a study to firm up the estimated cost so voters can assess whether this is a good use of tax dollars. 

There are no guarantees that convention delegates will propose amendments that voters want.

If approved by voters, the Office of Elections would conduct a delegate election. Then the public will have to study and prepare proposals in preparation for addressing issues like those you mention in your editorial. They’ll have to lobby convention delegates to advance their ideas, just as we lobby the Legislature.

And of course, there are no guarantees that convention delegates will propose amendments that voters want, especially working in the short time period, perhaps three or four months, normally set aside for such a meeting.

If “yes” wins on this November 2018 ballot question, we’ll have about two years to think about what policies could best address fundamental issues, though not necessarily every issue described in your editorial.

We could end up with a product that provides one or more important updates to our relatively modern constitution. I like that prospect.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org.

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