Commentary: Government by amendment is lazy, riskyThe 2012 legislative session is well under way and the Republicans in the majority are – once again – abdicating their responsibility to govern our state by insisting on “governing by constitutional amendment.”
By: Steve Murphy, The Republican Eagle
The 2012 legislative session is well under way and the Republicans in the majority are – once again – abdicating their responsibility to govern our state by insisting on “governing by constitutional amendment.”
At first glance, governing by amendment may seem like a logical way to go; just let the people decide their own fate.
In actuality it is the most dangerous and reckless way to conduct the business of the state. What may appear to be a simple solution does not rectify a plethora of complex issues.
Case in point: In those dismal years of the Pawlenty administration, I and former Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, were authoring legislation that would make medicinal marijuana legal in Minnesota. This legislation would have provided those folks who have life-ending diseases the ability to use this product to ease pain and some of the negative consequences of chemotherapy (like not being able to eat).
It would have the most restrictive law, of its kind, in the nation. It also would have provided zero wiggle room for those individuals who would have conspired to bring a criminal element into the business.
Unfortunately for our state and after several years of work, Gov. Pawlenty vetoed the bill.
This was a huge disappointment to many of us who were involved with building a bipartisan coalition around this well-crafted piece of legislation.
Many wanted to put the question to the people in the form of a constitutional amendment and bypass the obstacle in the governor’s office.
Speaker Sviggum and I both opposed this tactic. Our reservations were well placed; the state of California put this question on the ballot and now has a law that is impossible to enforce and has dramatically increased crime and violence surrounding medical marijuana.
The lesson: once a constitutional question is voted on and passed, all the laws in the universe will not change unintended consequences. If you make a mistake, you are stuck with it, no matter what.
I have seen many a constitutional question come and go — ”the right to hunt and fish,” “flag burning,” “legacy,” “MVST/motor vehicle sales tax” and many more.
As a young legislator, I mistakenly and regrettably voted in support of several of these questions strictly for political purposes. Much like the amendment-happy Republicans of today, our opponents were hoping to use these votes to defeat amendment detractors in the next election.
We have representative government, a government where we elect folks to study the issues and craft laws which will benefit the people of Minnesota. Many of the issues of the day are extremely complex. It demands hard work to craft legislation, seek compromise and pass laws which will stand the test of time.
The process isn’t easy; but constitutional questions are. Not only can constitutional questions be dangerous, they are also a very lazy and politically expedient way to govern.
I would suggest to the Republican majority: cut out your political grandstanding and all of the pandering and get to work.
As a very wise man once said, “Any jackass can kick in a barn door. But, it takes a true carpenter to build one.” We need more legislators willing to be the carpenters of government; work hard, get their hands dirty and build something we can all be proud of.
Retired lawmaker Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, served in five terms in the Minnesota Senate.