SADOW: Specious Argumentation Shouldn’t Stop Constitutional Convention

The House of Representatives’ debate over a bill to call a limited constitutional convention in Louisiana exposed the shoddy, illogical, and evidence-free arguments against it, hopefully propelling it to Senate passage and enactment.

HB 800 by Republican state Rep. Beau Beaullieu, in its current form, would convene legislators plus 27 gubernatorial appointees to meet in committees or as one starting as early as May 30 to review what eligible portions of the constitution should be converted into statute. No later than Aug. 1 the entire convention would begin review of the committees’ recommendations with any of these sent forth as a proposition for voter approval accepted by the convention no later than Aug. 15. Separate majorities of representatives, senators, and gubernatorial appointees would have to coalesce for this forwarding. Articles dealing with citizen rights, power distribution, the legislative branch, the executive branch, judges, district attorneys, sheriffs, tax collection, bond funding, the Budget Stabilization Fund, the homestead exemption, state employee rights, retirement matters, and existence of the Southern University System would be off limits to transfer out.

It passed the House 75-27, surpassing the two-thirds supermajority required, with the only GOP member present state Rep. Joe Stagni in opposition but with Democrat state Reps. Roy Daryl Adams, Chad Brown, Robby Carter, and Dustin Miller in favor, with Miller being the only black male among them while all other black Democrats plus the two white Democrat females were against, among those present. Even if badly outnumbered, the opposition went down spewing a lot of hot air.

Basically, they threw out three objections to the bill. First, they claimed legally the convention couldn’t be limited. Second, they said the matter was too rushed, leaving insufficient time for deliberation among delegates and within the public. Third, they argued few in the public wanted this.

All such objections, when exposed to scrutiny, are nonsense. There is a question about whether a convention can be limited, as the constitution itself on the matter is silent. But that’s irrelevant particularly when each chamber has a veto power over anything that would come out of a convention. If the enabling legislation contains guardrails enacted by two-thirds and more majorities, its reasonable that they would adhere to those at the convention itself.

Nor is the matter rushed at all. Keep in mind that whatever a convention would come up with, it doesn’t change anything about how the state is run. Whatever product if approved by voters merely becomes a bookkeeping exercise of transferring constitutional provisions into statute at the end of 2024, and nothing more. That makes it all a very simple question: does the voter support transforming a specified list of constitutional provisions into statute? Nothing is being changed and nothing is going away. And two months of public input during the committee phase, two weeks of public deliberation at the convention, and nearly three months of public discussion prior to the national election date on any end product would be more than adequate for gauging the wisdom of engaging in such a simplified procedural move.


Finally, anybody who thinks elected officials must act solely as mouthpieces for the public, articulating whatever they think the public wants and if they don’t think the public cares then ignoring the issue, has no clue as to how to perform their job. Politicians by design are invited to inject their judgment into their governance, as presumably by their positions and successful elections they have demonstrated such aptitude. If they spot something about which the public may seem to be apathetic but that they realize is important to lead the polity to better living, they must pursue it. And even if the public cares and solidly expresses a preference contrary to the better judgment of a politician, that official should act to follow his own conscience even if unpopular. That’s what it means to lead, and any elected official that can’t do that shouldn’t be in office, much less argue for inaction (for the record, a recent news organization poll noted that out of a menu of items only one percent of the public argued having a convention was the most important issue and only just over half even had an opinion about a new constitution, slightly negative).

And even if any of these excuses not to have a convention were valid, opponents ignore the most crucial point of all: any changes must meet with popular approval at the polls. If a majority of the people don’t like the product, if they think it was rushed, if they don’t see a need for a change, or all of the above, they’ll vote it down. There’s no reason not to see what a convention comes up with, since the people will have the final say and if approving will signal they agreed with the subject matter, they felt they had enough information about it, and they thought a change was needed.

Senators can’t let specious argumentation derail their understanding that — in the short run, to address looming fiscal concerns and, over the long term, to improve the state’s economic development fortunes and the life prospects of its citizens — they need to start down the road of reform of a state government that wastes too much as a part of spending, too much that the straitjacket of a constitution written under a very different political ethos of a half-century ago prevents fixing. Laying out such bad argumentation against this betrays the real goal of those in opposition: maintenance of big government to slake their own thirst for power and privilege and that of the special interests backing them. Don’t be fooled by their whining.



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