APPEL: A New Louisiana Constitution, Yes, But Not Yet

Simply put I believe that Louisiana needs a new constitution. However I say so though with great reservations. Though our current document was ratified in 1974, its roots extend back to 1923 and even hundreds of years earlier. As our fundamental law, this instrument has been cobbled together through decades of amendments and frankly it doesn’t serve us well.

Yes, we need a strong new instrument, one that will lead us into the 21st century and beyond. But there are dangers that lie in the details contained in the way we achieve a new constitution and, if not overcome, they could mean that we would be trapped by a constitution that is contrary to the political philosophy and best interests of our people.

First, there has been much ado about a constitutional convention called to overhaul limited parts of the existing constitution. This scope would deal with the fiscal nature of our government. What a huge trap that would be. Just imagine a partially changed constitution that locks in a growing revenue structure, one that guarantees to fund government for the long term with no reform of the rest of the constitution. Can you imagine what the politicians in Baton Rouge would do with effectively unlimited revenue but without restructuring government?

I agree that we must address the fiscal structure of our state. We must create a system to fund government through a fair balance between business and citizens. We must have a structure that lends itself to a growing economy. And we must provide some growth so that we can address inflationary issues.

But, and here is the huge but, if we reform only the fiscal section of the constitution without addressing all the other antiquated and inefficient areas of our fundamental law then I can assure you that we will never achieve our aims. The result of a partial changed constitution would be a growing and predictable revenue stream that would fund an inefficient and ineffective government. No group of politicians, given plenty of money, would ever be willing to undertake controversial changes to improve our government after that. A partial convention will lock in failure.

Another big danger in crafting a new constitution is the nature of who will have influence over the final content. Without a doubt whoever is the sitting governor will have massive influence over what work product comes from the constitutional convention.

As an example of the extent of the impact on our future, let’s all be reminded that our current governor is closely allied with trial lawyers and teacher unions. Therefore a constitutional convention held under his governorship will most likely not address desperately needed civil justice reform and most likely provide for an education structure dominated by the unions. Now some folks may like that arrangement but anyone who believes that the current governor’s policies are an anathema to a prosperous people should be greatly concerned.

When we finally do call a constitutional convention we must all be very aware of who our governor is because he or she will control our destiny. A governor such as ours, whose philosophy differs so drastically from the majority of our people, will absolutely imbed his philosophy deep in our law for decades to come. I for one would be gravely concerned about calling a convention until we have leadership that is willing to abandon the past, to build a state based upon a growing economy, and to enshrine a philosophy that the majority of our people can be comfortable with.

My final concern is even more about process. Unless the convention is courageous enough to truly rework the structure of governments at all tiers, then we will see no positive outcome. A convention will be inundated with special interests and local government politicians. Though these folks may bring important ideas to the table they will also have a propensity to want to do things the old way, or worse things that benefit themselves or their employers. The success of a convention will be determined wholly by how independent the conventioneers are and how aggressively they are willing to create a document that will transform Louisiana into a leader in the South and our nation.

Yes, we need a new constitution but I cannot support the concept under our current leadership. I understand that we need a new fundamental law but the devil is in the details and a bad instrument would be far worse than living with what we have. I believe that before we consider a constitutional convention we must wait for new leadership that will aggressively lead this state to a better place.

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