PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK: Election correction: No more legislating through constitution
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 3:35 AM
I stand corrected. Contrary to my opinion last week, it appears highly unlikely that Minnesota lawmakers will ever try to govern by constitutional amendment again. The voters of Minnesota sent a strong message in last week's general election.
Not only did Minnesota voters soundly reject the two constitutional amendments, they also flipped the state House and Senate from Republican to DFL control, a possible consequence of Republicans trying to get their way by legislating through the state constitution on the issues of marriage and voter ID.
State Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, is one of several officials that believes the amendments on the ballot hurt Republicans statewide, particularly in suburban areas.
When I sat down to write last week's column, I didn't foresee the voters' wrath, or at least the strength of that wrath.
My feeling going into the election was that the conclusion would be inconclusive, and we need to be prepared for governance by constitutional amendment as the parties become even more entrenched in their "team" mentality at the expense of constituents.
The election was a pleasant surprise. Not only does the amendment process appear dead, leaders from the winning party aren't talking about retaliation.
Instead, they say they are looking at conciliation and a cautious approach in the next legislative session as "compromise" has become a popular word for all politicians, thanks to the message from Minnesota voters.
Prior to the election as I heard people talk, I had a feeling the marriage amendment would fail, although I figured it would be by a razor thin margin.
I didn't have any inclination that the voter ID amendment would fail, though. Support for it had a strong lead in the months before the election and the issue had a simple argument in favor - if people need photo identification to buy beer, why shouldn't they need it to vote?
Because it was a more complex issue than it seemed, and the arguments on both sides were based more on reason than the emotion that energized the marriage amendment, I decided to write a column on this issue three weeks ago, even if I did think it was a lost cause.
In the end, most people, except the ones that believe in conspiracy theories, seemed to understand the complexities and reinforced my faith in the wisdom of voters.
Although the governor has said the voting mechanics could use some changes to improve the process, anything like the proposal before the voters last week is a dead issue now.
The fate of the definition of marriage isn't so clear, though.
As I wrote last week, I thought the whole reason the proposal ended up on the ballot had more to do with politics than morals.
I had a paragraph in my original column that noted if any legislators really backed this on moral grounds, their support for a political maneuver may backfire because defeat opens up the possibility of a push to change the law in Minnesota through legislation.
I struck it out of my finished column because I thought to myself "that won't happen. After all, if the majority of legislators were able to get it on the ballot, a slim margin of defeat isn't going to change their minds 180 degrees."
Now, the makeup of the Legislature has changed dramatically, so who knows what will happen?
For those officials who cynically defended their decision by arguing the people have a right to decide this important issue - well, they got their wish.
Now the question is what exactly did voters decide? That a definition of marriage between one man and one woman shouldn't be ingrained in the constitution or that this isn't an acceptable definition at all for Minnesota?
The emotional arguments on both sides gave the message that voting yes or no is the difference between allowing same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
The fear-based scenarios all highlighted the consequences if same-sex marriage is allowed or forever denied. The argument could be made that this was a referendum on allowing same-sex marriage.
Other interpretations are also possible and identifying that message from voters will be for legislators to decide later.
For now, the politicians got the clear message that the people don't want our elected officials to legislate through putting divisive, political issues on the ballot in the form of constitutional amendments.
I never imagined I would think this, but the millions of dollars spent and the heated exchanges that occurred as a result of the amendments on the ballot produced one good thing - a fitting end to this process.