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Amending Your State’s Constitution

When any amendment makes it to the ballot for voters to decide on, you know two things:

  1. Someone stands to gain something
  2. Someone stands to lose something

That makes decision making fairly easy, right? You decide whose side you’re on, and then you vote for that side. This is what people mean when they say, "Americans vote their self-interest."

But I submit that not only is that not always the case, but that it’s not always the right thing to do. Sometimes, what supports your self-interest isn’t fair or just for the majority, or even for the country. For example, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and George Soros, all of whom have extraordinary wealth, oppose (and by that I mean spend money lobbying to oppose) the repeal of the estate tax. Their heirs will lose millions to the government in the form of taxes, but these pro-estate tax gentlemen believe that it’s for the good of the rest of the country.

Now, let’s say your state has a citizen initiative process that allows its constitution to be amended if 51% of the voters (I’d say 51% of the people, but that would assume 100% vote, and we know that’s not the case) cast their votes in favor of the initiative.

  • For example, here in Florida in November of 2002, voters banned gestation crates for pigs (small metal enclosures, 2 ft. wide, wherein pregnant pigs are kept for four months, unable to even turn around. Naturally, they cannot exercise, they become weak and even lame. They also become neurotic and stressed, and engage in repetitive, often self-damaging, behaviors. According to pork industry officials 64% of the nation’s 80,000 hog farms used gestation crates in 2002, to maximize profit). The ban passed, 55% to 45%. The hog farming community and other intensive farmers opposed the ban, and humane groups and average, compassionate citizens supported it.
  • If you were a hog farmer, or otherwise involved in factory farming, what would be your next step? Use the same process to create an initiative and collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot. The content of the proposed amendment to the constitution? Increase the percentage of votes necessary to approve an initiative, from 50% to 60%, to prevent something like that pesky gestation crate ban from being passed in the future.

This brings us to the very real, very important issue of Amendment 3 here in Florida which would require a supermajority to amend the state’s constitution in the future. Although a lot is being made of it, as if there’s really a debate and it’s difficult to sort it all out, it’s frighteningly simple.

Once again, we follow the money and the power, and deconstruct:

  • Who stands to gain something if Amendment 3 passes?
    • Those who created and support Amendment 3: A policital committee calling itself Protect Our Constitution, which is composed of big business, such as the Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Association of Realtors, Associated Builders and Contractors, Florida Wall & Ceiling Contractor’s Association.
    • Politicians, who need only 51% to win. Amendment 3’s proposed 60% puts the interests of individual voters and their needs at a disadvantage.
    • Special-interest lobbyists, like those for the Florida Farm Bureau, which will have an advantage, as the only way they would reform is if they were forced to, and the only way they would be forced to would be for their opposition to garner 60%, and that is very difficult.
  • Who stands to lose if Amendment 3 passes? Individual citizens, who will hear the message being sent to them: they don’t have power over politicians and special interests. Inevitably, they will feel helpless and hopeless, and some of those that actually did vote, might stop voting because the system is so stacked against them.
    • In the past, the citizen initiative process has led to:
      • term limits for career politicians
      • environmental protections
      • higher minimum wage
      • improved access to your own medical records
      • smaller class sizes

The message Amendment 3 sends is: Career politicians and large corporate interests are in charge and won’t be forced to change how they do business. But don’t believe me. Go to the links on this page and check it all out for yourself.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. tater #

    It takes a deep commitment to change and an even deeper commitment to grow. – Ralph Ellison

    September 19, 2006

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