Republicans poised to place multiple constitutional amendments on ballot

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

It’s beginning to look like the 2012 ballot will be peppered with proposed constitutional amendments.

A group of Republicans today (Tuesday, May 3) presented another proposed amendment, one that if approved by voters would limit state spending to 98 percent of available resources and require a three-fifth vote to raise taxes.

“We saw what happened when we didn’t plan ahead,” said Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, speaking in favor Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, proposed amendment.

But many other proposed amendments — some 20, counting duplicate amendments, have been introduced in the House — and not all relate to the state budget are afoot this session.

In addition to the high-profile same-sex marriage ban amendment, there’s also a voter photo ID amendment, proposed amendments dealing with legislative terms, and even one amendment that would define “person” to mean a “natural person.”

Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, depicted her voter photo ID proposed amendment as a backup should Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton veto voter ID legislation working its way through the Legislature.

“I think responding to the people is not partisan,” she said of placing the amendment on the ballot. Having a handful of proposed amendment appearing on the ballot is nothing new, said Kiffmeyer.

That’s true.

Eleven proposed constitutional amendments appeared on the 1914 ballot — one dealing with a dog tax, according to House Research.

Five amendments have appeared on the ballot in six general elections..

While Kiffmeyer views her proposed amendment as nonpartisan, others see things differently.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, blasted Republicans today for chasing constitutional amendments in the face of an unresolved $5 billion state budget deficit. “We should be worried about the next 19 days, not the next 19 months,” said Bakk, referring to the scant days left in the legislative session compared to the months until the next election.

Democrats argue Republicans are pursuing their constitutional amendments, which could wait until next session, to distract attention from their budget bills.

Generally speaking, constitutional amendments are proposed with an eye to driving voter turnout, said Bakk. And that’s true of Democrats as well as with Republicans, he said.

University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute Political Science Professor Larry Jacobs sees the state heading into “new territory” in recent days with constitutional amendments.

Jacobs foresees vigorous campaigning next election as pro and con constitutional amendment groups battle it out across the state.

“Both sides (Democrats and Republicans) will use the constitutional amendments to drive turnout,” said Jacobs.

The number of constitutional amendments appearing on the ballot could cause some voters to simply ignore some of them, he indicated.

“This hasn’t happened in the past but the number of amendments this year may change the dynamics,” Jacobs wrote in an e-mail.

There could be a political cost to Republicans.

“They started the session promising to take care of No. 1 priorities (jobs and budget) and may be vulnerable to attacks from the governor for taking on divisive, non-essential issues in ways that make the Republicans seem ‘out of touch,’” wrote Jacobs.

David Schultz, a political commentator and professor at Hamline University School of Business, said recent elections in California where voters have faced multiple proposed constitutional amendments has show voters have “a finite interest” in wading through amendments.

To that extent, campaigns may draw voter attention to some amendments while others, with less active support, may be overlooked.

While lawmakers may have “mixed motives” in proposing constitutional amendments, some clearly are not meant to drive voter turnout, Schultz noted.

“I don’t see too many people getting hot and bothered over that amendment,” said Schultz of a recent proposed amendment to eliminate the Office of Lieutenant Governor that never got onto the ballot.

Since 1900 in Minnesota, for a constitutional amendment to pass, the amendment must win the approval of the majority of people voting.

If a voter skips an amendment, it’s the same as voting “No.”

A general rule of thumb is an amendment needs a 60 percent “Yes” vote in order to pass.

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