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Home News  Proposals would re-write Constitution, ban felons from office
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Wednesday, October 27,2010

Proposals would re-write Constitution, ban felons from office

by Kyle Melinn

Looking for a hot-button social issue to weigh-in on? Not on this year’s General Election ballot.


There’s no same-sex marriage, stem-cell research and affirmative action. No out-ofstate financier is throwing a medical marijuana-like initiative into the mix. Nobody has any money, and those who do realize that most people do not and they’re not interested in talking about anything but jobs and the economy.


No, the only two statewide ballot proposals on the ballot are surprisingly low-key affairs.


The first is a constitutionally mandated re-write question and the second was a lastminute throw-in created by Detroit lawmakers concerned about convicted felon and former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick making a political resurrection.


Proposal 1 is on the ballot because the 1963 Michigan Constitution says it has to be. Every 16 years, voters are given the option of whether the state’s governing document should be re-written. Voters in 1978 and 1994 said no.


If voters say yes, Michigan voters would elect 148 constitutional delegates, one for each state House (110) and Senate district (38). A primary likely would be held in February and the general election held in May. The convention would begin in Lansing on Oct. 4, 2011. In all likelihood, it would convene at the Lansing Center.


Sitting lawmakers would be ineligible to be delegates, but former lawmakers could be elected. The delegates would elect a president, vice president and committee chairmen. They would hire staff and take as much time as they needed to write a new Constitution. It could take several months or years.


Whatever the convention comes up with would be put in front of the voters. If voters say yes, the new Constitution takes effect. If voters say no, the 1963 Constitution — the result of the last constitutional convention — would remain and voters would be asked in 2026 if they wanted to try again.


The current Constitution is the state’s fourth. The Citizens Research Council concluded, after an exhaustive look, that a rewrite could be helpful but not necessary.


"Our analysis … did not identify anything that could be identified as a constitutional crisis," council President Jeffrey Guilfoyle said. "But there are many issues that could be addressed to improve the operations of state and local governments in our state."


A handful of individual prominent leaders — Gov. Jennifer Granholm, former House Speaker Rick Johnson, former gubernatorial candidate/state Sen. Tom George — like the idea. They argue a constitutional convention would open the door to significant cost-cutting government reforms.


Johnson said on "City Pulse On The Air" that a constitutional convention would allow delegates to cut the size of the Legislature and possibly create a part-time body, but only if term limits are lengthened.


Lansing’s political groups are a nearly unanimous "no," too. More than 35 labor, business and trade associations are against the idea of spending what the Senate Fiscal Agency pegs as $45 million on a process they fear will be overtaken by out-of-state special interests. "We’ll take our protein one worm at a time, instead of opening up the whole can," said David Bertram of the Michigan Townships Association.


The Michigan Chamber of Commerce is riding herd on the group, "Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution," contributing $151,000 to the $338,000 the group has raised to date. They have cut a radio ad pushing their message while the loose band of supporters, led by Cheboygan County Drain Commissioner Dennis Lennox, aren’t actively raising or spending money.


They are quick to point out why Lansing lobbyists might really be opposed to a con-con.


"Maybe some of them like the current scenario because they have an advantage. These short terms put policymaking into the hands of lobbyists, consultants, associations and bureaucrats," Johnson said.


Proposal 2 was birthed by Sen. Tupac Hunter, D-Detroit, in the wake of back-to-back scandals in Detroit government involving disgraced former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former City Council President Monica Conyers, whose miscues in office created further embarrassment in the Motor City. Supporters see the measure as restoring people’s trust in government.


The measure would prevent felons, for 20 years after their conviction, from holding state or local elective office if their offense involved on-the-job dishonesty, deceit, fraud or a breach of the public trust.


Guilfoyle said voters need to ask themselves if they want further restrictions on the ability of felons to hold office and if those restrictions should be put in the Constitution.


Citizens Research Council researchers also raised a question of practicality. How many felons are re-elected or re-appointed after a conviction?


"Research shows that political scandals and perceptions of crime — among other things — impact public trust in government," said Brittany Galisdorfer, the council’s Earhardt Fellow. "But there is little research to show that keeping people that have committed those crimes from office will serve to prevent future scandals or crimes."


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