At first glance, the big decision before Michigan voters on November 2nd, 2010 is the choice of governor; but Michigan Proposal 10-1 to convene a Constitutional Convention is a close contender because it could result in a total rewrite of Michigan’s State Constitution.
A state’s constitution sets out the organization of its government, including the state government's powers (not delegated to the federal government) and the manner by which it will function. For instance, a constitution can set out the terms of elected representatives, the level of public participation in the election process, and the balance of power between the branches of its government.
In other words, the document sets out the supreme law of the state. As such, it can define the rights of its people and limit specific governmental powers.
Most state constitutions are designed to be flexible and/or evolve over time. State constitutions historically set out the method by which they can be revised (amended/replaced). While amendments are more specific than a total rewrite, they can result in a messy document over time with contradictory sections.
Text of Michigan Proposal 10-1
A PROPOSAL TO CONVENE A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION FOR THE PURPOSE OF DRAFTING A GENERAL REVISION OF THE STATE CONSTITUTION
Shall a convention of elected delegates be convened in 2011 to draft a general revision of the State Constitution for presentation to the state’s voters for their approval or rejection?
Background and Process
The proposal itself is automatic. It is added to the ballot once every 16 years as required under the Michigan Constitution of 1963. If the proposal passes, a Constitutional Convention would be convened by October 4th, 2011. The first step in the process would be to elect 148 delegates through a special primary and general election. The delegates, in turn, would work to rewrite the Michigan Constitution, either in part or in toto. While there are always concerns about the final make up of the delegates, voters in the state would have a kind of veto power: voters have to ratify any document drafted pursuant to the convention.
History of Michigan's Constitutional Conventions
Michigan has had four Constitutional Conventions. The last resulted in the 1963 Michigan Constitution. Since that time, 31 amendments have been added to it that generally fall within three categories: the structure of government, tax revolt, and social issues.
If Proposal 10-1 is passed by Michigan voters, the 2011 Constitutional Convention would be the 5th in Michigan’s history. On average, a Constitutional Convention has been convened once every 33 years in the state and has lasted an average of four-and-one-half months.
If the proposal is rejected, the proposal will appear again on the ballot in 2026.
While the United States has had only one Constitutional Convention in 220 years, state constitutions are generally more detailed because they cover more of the day-to-day business of the state government and its relationship to local governments.
Michigan is one of four states with a proposal calling for a Constitutional Convention on the ballot, including Iowa, Maryland and Montana. The proposals in all four states were placed on the ballot automatically under the existing State Constitutions.
- Adapt or Die. The main argument in favor of convening a Constitutional Convention is that Michigan’s government needs to adapt to the social and economic changes of the last few decades – the Michigan Constitution was last revised in 1963. Michigan is at a crossroads; it is struggling to reinvent itself economically at a time when the status quo in Lansing is simply not working. If the Michigan Constitution was overhauled, it could allow the government to run more efficiently and better lead the way to a prosperous future.
- In Toto Versus Piecemeal Change. In this regard, the structure of the government should be considered as a whole rather than through a hodgepodge of amendments made over several decades. While the convention process will necessitate the discussion and debate of a great many issues, any document coming out of it will be ratified by the voters, which should prevent any radical or extremist consequences.
- The main group in favor of Proposal 10-1 is Yes on Proposal 1. Co-chairmen include Senator Tom George M.D., Saginaw County Republican Party chairman Tim Kelly, and Cheboygan County Drain Commissioner Dennis Lennox. Governor Jennifer Granholm also supports the proposition.
- Baby and/or Bathwater Michigan has problems, but can they be laid at the feet of its structure and rules as set out in the 1963 Constitution? If not, then a rewrite at this time could result in more problems than it solves, especially as there are so many politically charged issues that would be reopened for debate and possibly seized upon for political gain. The amendment process, which allows an amendment regarding a specific issue to be proposed by a citizen and/or the legislature, is the better alternative because issues can be addressed one at a time.
- Too Costly. The primary and general election to determine delegates to the convention will cost the State of Michigan money, as will the special election to ratify the new constitution.
- The main group opposing Proposal 10-1 is the Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution. The group's arguments against the proposal can be found on NoMichiganConCon.com. According to the website, several organizations are against the proposal, including several communities' chambers of commerce, the Michigan State AFL-CIO, the Small Business Association of Michigan, and the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.
- Nonpartisan Analysis of Michigan Ballot Issues / Citizens Research Council of Michigan
- The Pros & Cons of Convening a Constitutional Convention in Michigan by Greg Schmid / Review Magazine
- Four States to Weigh Calls for Constitutional Conventions by Melissa Maynard / Governing.com (10/11/10)
- State Constitutions / Encyclopedia.com