SADOW: Do’s And Don’ts For A Louisiana Constitutional Convention

From media accounts, a discussion over a constitutional convention for Louisiana summarized arguments going back decades, but perhaps missed the optimal approach.

Sponsored by the Pelican Institute, it featured panels that reviewed topics associated with the question of whether and, if so, how to bring such a thing and a new constitution into fruition. It seemed all participating joined a large, although not unanimous in missing chiefly the political left, consensus that Louisiana needs significant changes to its governing document, principally involving fiscal matters.

The event appeared to hit all of the past arguments’ highlights. Such a lengthy and detailed document makes for too much rigidity in state government, in essence locking in policy priorities of at least four decades ago if not of more distant provenance, which may not reflect today’s wishes. Further, incremental change likely will not work; i.e. with a large amount of dedicated revenues and expenditures built into the Constitution, different constituencies can mobilize into majorities to prevent varying measures from excision, so altogether nothing changes. Finally, even if a consensus emerged for revision, various issues regarding selection of convention participants could scuttle the whole effort, if not produce a document that doesn’t address the fundamental problems.

Keep in mind that the left won’t support the idea. Presently, the Constitution creates a government suited to its agenda of refashioning society because the fiscal straitjacket created does well in sucking up the people’s money while giving legislators a false excuse – because of dedications even though they could change statutes to prevent some portion of these – for why they must spend it, and why taxes must increase to funnel money to areas that go wanting because of these unnecessary diversions. It also gives state government too much control over and responsibility for local affairs, because of outsized revenue sharing requirements.

Thus, a Democrat like Gov. John Bel Edwards doesn’t support the idea now and won’t in the future, even as he hypocritically called it an option when he tried to bludgeon the Legislature into fiscal reform that would raise taxes permanently and on income in a progressive fashion. Only a conservative Republican seems likely to back anything close to a convention.

The debate also often gets sidetracked by disingenuous arguments against it, particularly concerning delegate selection. Recent attempts have foundered along fault lines of whether to have legislators exclusively; a mixture of them, elected delegates, and/or interest group representatives perhaps or perhaps not selected by the governor who also may have his own appointees; or not having any legislators automatically involved (they could run for delegate slots and potentially win selection that way). This impasse need not be the case.

In considering the appropriate method, its result simply cannot allow replication of current policy-makers all too comfortable with the current constitution that inhabit the Baton Rouge swamp. Thus, a method that has 105 elected delegates that may include legislators and 39 others that cannot have held state office of any kind for the six years previous can strike the proper balance. (The last de facto attempt, during the Democrat former Gov. Edwin Edwards Administration that made a special session of the Legislature into a convention of sorts, didn’t follow this and failed at the ballot box, although some of its provisions have made it into law or regulation since.)

Additionally, a convention should have limits. This defers more to practicality than anything else, to overcome the presence of issue-by-issue differing majorities that could sink a more comprehensive effort. Including only the areas of revenue and finance, local government finance, retirement systems, and higher education organization and finance addresses – areas often cited as problematic – could have a major impact in resolving present shortcomings. (The 1992 attempt largely followed these lines, although tepidly.)

I’m unsure whether ideas such as these came up at the meeting, but these represent the best direction in which to head: limited convention with procedures to prevent domination by the status quo. If this meeting creates momentum for something like this, it served its purpose.

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