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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Con/Con Yes/NO?

In the whole of the United States of America, the big question on November 4th will be whether John McCain or Barack Obama will be President. In Illinois, the big question maybe whether or not to have a Constitutional Convention come 2010. For instance, former Governor Jim Edgar has spoken out.

The question of whether or not a Constitutional Convention is a good idea or not is one layered in nuance and double edged swords. As such, let's lay out what is not disputable. First, the current Constitution of Illinois is a giant mess. It allows for such rights as the right to a clean environment, the right to be free from discrimination, all persons with a physical or mental handicap shall be free from discrimination in the sale or rental of property and shall be free from discrimination unrelated to ability in the hiring. As such, we have here a lot of well meaning rights that are nebulous at best and at worst a potential litigation nightmare. Just imagine any enterprising attorney suing a smoker for inhibiting on an other's right to a "clean environment".

Furthermore, the Constitution has other nebulous statements like this.

To promote individual dignity, communications that portray criminality, depravity or lack of virtue in, or that incite violence, hatred, abuse or hostility toward, a person or group of persons by reason of or by reference to religious, racial, ethnic, national or regional affiliation are condemned.

While this is a good thought, it's very unclear just how this is supposed to be enforced. Finally, the Constitution has other rights that then become totally infringed by municipalities. Let's look at this right.

Subject only to the police power, the right of the individual citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed

So, while the 2nd Amendment right of the U.S. Constitution is reinforced in our own Illinois Constitution, it doesn't seem to do much to stop the city of Chicago from creating a ban on handguns. I could go on and on, and I have only delved into the Bill of Rights so far. So, believe me when I tell you, the Illinois Constitution is a mess.

On other indisputable truth is that a Constitutional Convention will cost a bunch, $80 million. Furthermore, the state of Illinois is is drowning in debt.

Thus, we have layers of arguments. Is it worth it to spend $80 million to hammer out a new Constitution? Furthermore, there is another nuanced argument first given to me by Tony Peraica, the Republican candidate for Cook County State's Attorney. Illinois is currently a far left state. Creating a Constitutional Convention now will only select a plethora of new far left delegates that will likely make it even worse. Many of those opposed to the Constitutional Convention say that the problem isn't the Constitution itself but rather the current crop of politicians. Rather than a costly Constitutional Convention, they say, just vote the bums out.

Dennis Byrne, a Chicago area columnist, tackles all of these arguments.

The organized opponents of a constitutional convention—representing many of the same business, labor and political interests that have steered us to the brink—insist that constitutional change isn't what we need. The way to change government is to elect new people, they say. Sure, that has worked so well.

Then, after telling us that the way to reform government is to elect better people, the anti-con-con forces warn us a convention would be dangerous because voters would elect the same kind of convention delegates that they already elect to run state government. This argument is at war with itself. If we can't elect true reformers to a con-con, then how are we going to elect true reformers to man the helm of state government?

The anti-con-con forces could have made a better case for themselves if they had said: To reform government, we need to elect better people, and we're creating a coalition of the reform-minded to do just that. Our coalition will cross party lines and back a consensus slate of candidates for the 2010 election, in which the governor and all leading state officers are elected. That they haven't shown any interest in that demonstrates that in opposing a convention they are mainly interested in tamping down reform efforts.

Certainly, some opposition is reasonable and well-intentioned, based on fears, for example, that the convention would draft a worse constitution or fall into the hands of single-issue delegates, such as those who want to write into it protections against global warming or for traditional marriage.

After giving it some thought, I am with Byrne. Ultimately, it comes down to this. The current Constitution is bad, really bad. No one can know what a new Constitutional Convention will bring, but the threat that things might get worse is no reason to sit by and accept the status quo.

Unfortunately, from my perch inside the Chicago area politically active community, I have seen little interest in this topic. I have had no conversations about a potential constitutional convention. I have attended one grass roots meeting about a new convention, however even that was sparsely attended. While I believe a Constitutional Convention is necessary, I am not hopeful it will have enough support to happen.

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