The People Govern?
Next Tuesday, in addition to selecting the 44th president, our 111th Congress, and thousands of state legislators, voters in several states will decide upon referenda that may change the very complexion of civil rights, social welfare, and even government itself. Atop the radar is a pitched battle over the constitutionality of gay marriage in California, where state voters consider Proposition 8, a referendum to ban homosexual unions and overturn the May 2008 state supreme court decision that deemed them constitutional. To date, Connecticut and Massachusetts are the only other states where gay marriages are legal.
In Senator John McCain's home state of Arizona, voters may act preemptively on the issue of government-provided health care like that provided in his opponent's plan. Their southwestern neighbor, Colorado, and the adjacent Great Plains State of Nebraska, will consider anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives that have passed previously in California, Washington, and Michigan. These efforts are led by African-American businessman Ward Connerly, who believes that Senator Barack Obama's presidency could spell the end of race-based preferences if he chose to take a leadership role on this issue. Obama actually opposes these initiatives, while Connerly counts McCain as a supporter and his candidate of choice.
In Obama's Illinois, voters are asked to decide whether the state should hold another constitutional convention in 2010, forty years after the current document was drafted. For approval, 60 percent of voters who answer the question or a majority of voters overall must answer in the affirmative. The Illinois Constitution is viewed by many as one of the most progressive in the country. It protects the rights of women, individuals with disabilities, and forbids discrimination on the basis of religion, race or ethnicity.
Its detractors deplore its lack of a recall mechanism (especially with the wildly unpopular Governor Rod Blagojevich top of mind), its guarantee of a two party system given the winner-takes-all mechanism employed in legislative contests, therefore yielding unified party control as we have witnessed since 2002, and its failure to mandate state funding for education. The state has proceeded to pass the buck to local taxpayers, yielding major inequities by jurisdiction through differential property tax bases and the second lowest level of state-based education funding in the country.
Others lament the pervasive corruption that characterizes the state, and argue that the only way out is to scrap the document that employs these rascals. However, those in favor of retaining the current constitution offer a simple mechanism for change, namely throwing these same rascals out of office on Election Day. A diverse coalition has formed to protest the high costs of calling a convention and voice fear that the same power brokers who we detest and distrust will have their dirty hands upon any new document when the dust settles. They suggest that we use the amendment process instead, addressing our grievances against the state government one by one, and avoiding the take it or leave it document that a constitutional amendment would yield. Once created, it would be placed before voters for an up or down vote.
My two posts this week taken together, I urge you to scrutinize the races and ballot measures beneath our presidential candidates. A President McCain or Obama will likely bring change from the existing regime and offer dramatically different visions for America, but the matters that affect us on a daily basis happen closer to home.