In the wake of yesterday’s Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the GOP Legislature’s ballot wording for two proposed constitutional amendments, endzone-dancing Republican leaders should keep something in mind.
The Supremes did not rule in favor of the Republican Party. They ruled in favor of the legislature branch. Important difference.
Here is what the Court said:
The proper role for the judiciary, however, is not to second-guess the wisdom of policy decisions that the constitution commits to one of the political branches.
The Secretary of State exceeded his authority … when he provided titles different from those passed by the Legislature.”
Granted, that’s good news for Republicans this year, because they’re the ones currently controlling the legislative “policy decisions” of which the Court speaks.
But in future years, the same ruling could easily turn out to be very bad news for Republicans. After all, the way Minnesota’s long-term demographics are trending – with the most rapid population growth happening in demographic groups historically more supportive of DFL candidates – the prospect of permanent GOP control of the Legislature is far from certain.
Future DFL-controlled Legislatures, stinging from the constitutional word games Republicans have played during their leadership reign, could do something equally absurd, or even more absurd.
For instance, a DFL-controlled Legislature could propose a constitutional amendment to require an enormous tax on the wealthiest Minnesotans to finance, let’s say, vacation homes for DFL leaders, or something else completely reckless. Furthermore, taking a page out of the GOP’ 2012 playbook, the DFL-controlled Legislature could then deceptively present this proposal to voters on their ballots in benign-sounding euphamisms:
“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to support fairness in housing financing in Minnesota, effective July 1, 2015?”
As I understand yesterday’s ruling, the Supremes wouldn’t overrule that kind of a hypothetical ballot wording scam. Not their job. I exaggerate in my example, for I am a blogger and exaggeration is what we do, but you get the general idea.
This is not a problem that is going to go away under the status quo approach to wording ballot questions. The majority party in the Legislature will probably continue to play word games in their drafting, and, again, the majority party may not always be to Speaker Zellers’ liking.
A few days ago I proposed what seems to me to be a more fair way of drafting ballot questions. Whether the reform comes off of my cocktail napkin, or from someone who actually knows what they’re doing, reform of the current ballot initiative drafting system is needed. If Minnesota politicians are going to persist in continually trying to amend the State Constitution to tickle their political fancy — and it seems pretty certain that they are — we need to at least get the proposals described to voters clearly and fairly.