Minnesota’s divided and contentious politics have led some clever lawmakers to suggest the seductive idea of empowering the people to make decisions where their representatives cannot by offering a buffet-style smorgasbord of constitutional amendments.
Most have some kind of populist appeal and a suggestion that they are an easy solution to an even more clear and simple problem.
Unfortunately, these instruments of pseudo-empowerment threaten real representative democracy and let political leaders off the hook.
Minnesota’s Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, represents statements of principles and carefully thought-out structures of how government should work based on the basic idea that constitutions should set up a level playing field and create rules that apply to all.
Minnesota lawmakers have so far this year given birth to about two dozen constitutional amendments, from requiring photo IDs in voting to restricting the Legislature’s budgeting authority. Republican Sen. Majority Leader Dave Senjem has wisely expressed a need to limit the amendments to two or three. But even that may be too many.
While one can appreciate the zeal to let the people decide, all too often the people look for an enemy and find it is them.
Most citizens do not have the time, or the inclination, to study issues in-depth, deliberate at length, and come up with alternative scenarios. That’s what we expect of our duly elected representatives. Many constitutional amendments simply let them off the hook. Good lawmaking is hard work, and we expect our legislators to get it done.
Constitutional amendments tend to be a copout for lawmakers when they find they can’t compromise or worse, don’t want to compromise. They somehow feel people with surface knowledge of an issue can make a better decision than those who study reports, consider dozens of points of view and thereby come up with the best solutions to public problems.
People have plenty of power to express their displeasure with their lawmakers’ inability to solve problems by voting them out of office. They can do this in most cases quite frequently, and it’s been proven to work.
Constitutional amendments should not be a substitute for solving problems that can be resolved with regular legislation that has been studied and vetted. Many of the amendments being proposed by Minnesota lawmakers this year appear to be end runs around the legislative process, the veto of a governor being a part of that process.
Constitutional amendments that cause representatives to abdicate their responsibility actually weaken representative democracy rather than strengthen it.
— The Mankato Free Press