IT IS INCREASINGLY clear that Michigan's state constitution needs major overhauling, but the misleading and badly flawed "Reform Michigan Government Now" amendment headed for the Nov. 4 ballot is no way to do it.
Though the current constitution was widely praised as a model for modern-era government when it was adopted in 1963, it has suffered in recent years for two major reasons.
One is that the constitution has become too easy to amend. All you need is a few hundred thousand signatures to get an amendment on a statewide ballot, and a public relations campaign to sway the voters. Getting that many signatures is hard, unless you have the financial backing of a major interest group that can pay canvassers to collect them.
The framers never imagined that. Nor did they foresee that one of those bought-and-paid amendments would establish Michigan's second great problem: Term limits have sharply reduced the competency and effectiveness of the legislators. Far worse than those in Ohio, Michigan's restrictions ban competent legislators from the House or Senate for life, after they have served six or eight years and have gotten some experience.
So there was great interest when a shadowy group called "Reform Michigan Government Now" submitted far more than enough signatures to get a laundry list of reforms on the ballot, disguised as a single amendment. Granted, some parts make sense, such as making redistricting nonpartisan. Some are unwise, such as reducing judicial salaries. And one is improper beyond belief; it would remove two of the five Republican judges from the state Supreme Court.
That provision helped betray that the entire "Reform Now" amendment as a stealth production of the Michigan Democratic Party. Some, in fact, think the issue is mainly the Democrats' attempt to goad the Supreme Court into ruling it off the ballot, angering voters into defeating Republican Chief Justice Clifford Taylor at the polls this fall. (That may be a little hard, since Democrats still haven't been able to come up with a candidate to go against him.)
Adopting this amendment would complete the process of making the automobile state an anarchic joke. Fortunately, there is a solution.
Two years from now, Michigan voters automatically will be asked if they want to call a convention for the purpose of writing a new constitution. That's the correct way to overhaul a document and a system that has seen better days. Increasingly, Michigan leaders, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, recognize that a new constitution is needed. Two years is not too long to wait to do it the proper way.
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