The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 9, 2014

Amending constitution should be harder

WHY IT MATTERS: If we are going to amend our state constitution, it should be with bipartisan support and not one party motivation

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Two years ago, Minnesota voted down two amendments to the state constitution — the voter ID and same-sex marriage amendments. We said then that in the future genuine bipartisanship should dictate amending the constitution, which as history shows is just too easy to amend.

For such a sacred document, this is wrong and there is a movement afoot to change that.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk is leading the debate on requiring a supermajority — 60 percent of the votes — before any state amendment to the constitution can be put to the voters.

Rather than pointing to the failed effort of 2012, Bakk pointed to the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that voters approved and was swiftly put into law.

In a recent news report Bakk said, “During my time here, everyone has talked about how hard it is to pass a constitutional amendment, but when I went back and looked, 17 of the previous 18 passed from 1982 and 2010; only one amendment that was on the ballot failed,” he said. “I think that’s contrary to what I think legislators believe.”

Bakk hopes that with a supermajority requirement, it will make it tough for either party to push through amendments without some help across the aisle.

“I thought, if that’s the way amendments are going to run — where one side funds the whole thing and the public only hears one side of the story — then at a minimum we might as well make it harder at the Legislature,” he said.

“I think this is a discussion the Legislature should have this year,” said Bakk, DFL-Cook. “Amending the constitution is really, really important business.”

Sen. Dick Cohen, sponsoring a bill similar to Bakk’s, said none of those amendments in 2012 would have made the ballot under a supermajority requirement.

“If we’re going to amend the constitution, that should be on a bipartisan basis,” said Cohen, DFL-St. Paul. “We should not have constitutional amendments devolving into partisan fights.”

These two amendment attempts in 2012 were approved by Republicans as a gift to their core constituency. However they were opposed not only by most Democratic legislators but also by the Democratic governor. We surmised then that they were defeated in part because Minnesota voters do not easily embrace any constitutional change put before them.

Voters certainly should be more reluctant to change the constitution when changes appear on the ballot so easily — simply due to the wishes of one party in control of just one part of government. Minnesota should change the amendment rules and a supermajority is a good way.

There was a lesson for all elected officials to heed back then for both Republicans and Democrats. Overreach is dangerous politically. The Democrats are in charge of things now, and it appears they’re well aware of the lessons of Nov. 6, 2012. We hope so.