Monday, October 29, 2012

Michigan's 2012 Ballot Proposals: Constitutional Pollution

A few careful thoughts regarding the ballot proposals which will be decided in this election. My thoughts are not designed to endorse or reject any specific proposal (although I’m happy to share my opinion if asked); I’m more concerned about how this process -- The Ballot Initiative -- affects governance. My touchstone on this subject is shaped by a decade of service on the Birmingham School Board. The critique is not my own, it is the work of the Citizen Research Council of Michigan; a non-partisan organization that provides factual, objective issue analysis.
The early state constitutions embodied the idea that a constitution should establish a general frame of government, setting forth general principles and avoiding the detail which mistakes a constitution for a statute or legal code. And the constitution of the United States is a superb model of a compact, organic document that is logically arranged, internally coherent and drafted with the object in mind of stating broad, fundamental, and enduring purposes.
Examples of the wordiness and detail often found in a legal code that would be introduced in the 2012 proposed constitutional amendments include:
  • inclusion of specific definitions of “ownership and development”, “state”, and “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” for the bridge question 
  • the types of technology for capturing renewable energies that will qualify as satisfying the Michigan standards, and 
  • creating and defining the duties and functions of a Michigan Quality Home Care Council or the composition of represented parties that would sit on the council.
Now, in my own words, with the exception of one proposal (the referendum on PA4, or Proposal 1) none of these issues should be supported. Not because of their individual merits, but because they don’t belong in our constitution. Simply put, the referendum trail creates constitutional pollution which will lead us to being as ungovernable as California. 

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