Constitutional Convention ballot proposal causes heated opinions on both sides

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By Cynthia Price
Legal News

Proposal 10-1 to determine if there should be a Michigan Constitutional Convention is stirring up a lot of fervor both for and against.
Though asking the voters of the state every 16 years if they want to convene another convention is mandated by the last state Constitution passed in 1963, the challenges facing Michigan seem to have resulted in the 2010 proposal creating a lot of heated debate.
Many say that the state government is so broken it cannot be fixed any other way. Others point to the potential high costs as prohibitive when there is so much else that money could fund.
The actual ballot wording  for Proposal 10-1, A PROPOSAL TO CONVENE A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION FOR THE PURPOSE OF DRAFTING A GENERAL REVISION OF THE STATE CONSTITUTION is: “Shall a convention of elected delegates be convened in 2011 to draft a general revision of the State Constitution for presentation to the state’s voters for their approval or
rejection?”
The official Secretary of State release on the ballot language details the wording in the current constitution Article IX, Section 3. This gives the background and sets out rules for the convention process such as electing delegates, although it states explicitly that “The convention shall choose its own officers, determine the rules of its proceedings and judge the qualifications, elections and returns of its members.”
The 1963 Constitutional Convention lasted seven and a half months, but there are no statutory parameters for its length, and since “the assent of a majority of all the delegates elected to and serving in the convention” is required before presenting it to the overall electorate for passage, it could last a long time.
Proponents and opponents have recently been lining up in great numbers. Several leading newspapers have come out in support of its passage, including the Grand Rapids Press, Detroit Free Press, and Kalamazoo Gazette. (The Holland Sentinel and Detroit News are opposed.)
A strong voice promoting passage of Proposal 10-1 is John Logie, former Grand Rapids Mayor and now Of Counsel to Warner, Norcross, and Judd. Logie has appeared around the state promoting the notion that so many changes to Michigan’s government, and so many revisions to the Constitution, are needed that a complete overhaul is the best course of action. One editorial he co-wrote states, “If you seek a dysfunctional state government, look about you.”
Though it is not the only reason cited, many who oppose the proposal base their opposition on the high cost, estimated to be $45 million.
Many politically-savvy Michiganians get their information from the Citizens Research Council, “established to bring about sound governmental policy through factual research,” which takes a nonpartisan approach to such issues. The organization’s web site is www.crcmich.org.
However, according to CRC’s Director of State Affairs Craig Thiel, estimates for how much the Constitutional Convention will cost are derived from figures generated by the Senate Fiscal Agency.
That agency developed the $45 million fiscal impact figure by first multiplying the amount the 1961-62 Con Con cost of about $2 million by the astounding number corresponding to inflation since that time: 685.7%, for a sum of $13.7 million. The agency then estimated a cost of approximately $10.4 million for a statewide election; the full process would require a primary election for delegates, a regular delegate election, and a vote on whether to adopt the revised Constitution.
As the agency notes, this assumes that all three elections are held separately and not in conjunction with already-scheduled elections. All things considered, it is highly unlikely that that would happen in all three cases, and it might not happen in even one, bringing the costs much lower.
But, as Logie comments, “Even if for argument’s sake we accept the $45 million dollar price tag, that is still only slightly over two-tenths of a percent of Michigan’s $20 billion annual budget — and the costs will be spread over two years at that.” Proponents feel that revisions to the constitution are likely to result in savings that more than offset those costs — every year.
Logie has a long list of cost-saving and efficiency measures which would be prevented under the current Constitution. To quote from a white paper he has written on the subject, these include: “(1) fixing the budget deadline and requiring it to be done on time or face loss of pay AND BENEFITS (my choice); (2) fixing term limits; (3) doing away with partisan gerrymandering of political districts; (4) move to appointed Supreme Court Justices; (5) permit local governments to do voluntary consolidations; (6) shrinking the Legislature by choosing (a) to lower the size of each chamber, (b) be in session only part time, (c) meet every other year, or (d) shrink their pay; (7) eliminating the lame-duck session; and most of all (8) reforming the state’s taxation system by adding more choices.”
Groups in opposition include the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Townships Association, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the Michigan AFL-CIO, and several others who have united in a group called Citizens Protecting Michigan's  Constitution. Some say that such a process will allow special interest groups to play too large a role; others  claim that the problem is not with the Constitution but with its enforcement.
A strong argument against the Con Con is that, although there are many problems with it, they can be handled through the amendment process without opening up the entire Constitution for debate.
Some fear that their particular issues will be threatened if such a broad debate takes place. The CRC does a good job of delineating some of those issues: prohibition of the death penalty, banning same-sex marriages, “provisions for local government home rule,” and others.
However, the CRC has identified a few provisions which run directly counter to the U.S. Constitution which should be changed, though the group does not say a Con Con is the only way to do so. Among others, the CRC sites provisions in Article II on Elections which contain property ownership and voting age requirements that are “obsolete,” while the section on the Legislative Branch has legislative redistricting provisions that “are not consistent with the federal constitution.”
Polls indicate that the cost issue plays the largest role in people’s decision-making. Logie cites a poll conducted in June, where people’s responses to holding a constitutional convention were 49% yes, 23% no, and 28% undecided. When that same group was presented with the $45 million cost,  the yes votes plummeted to 21%, with 79% saying they would vote no. No polling has been done using a lower figure.