A mixed bag from the Constitutional Revision Commission.
I like the idea that Florida’s constitution has an update mechanism built into it.
It mandates that every 20 years a Constitutional Revision Commission meets and suggests revisions to the voters. The commission has been formed to do this only two times in the past. The new committee came up with its menu of amendments on Monday.
And it’s not a very appealing menu.
The commission took its cues from cable companies that make you choose packages rather than the channels you want.
It bundled 18 unrelated and barely related issues into eight amendments. This means voters need to vote whole packages up or down regardless of how they feel about all the components. When amendments are put before voters by legislation or petition, this kind of scheme is forbidden by law.
Commissioners defended this decision saying past commissions did it, too. Which is true.
The first commission in 1978 suggested eight amendments and all were shot down. But none of them were shot down as thoroughly as Amendment 1, a constitutional rewrite that contained some 57 items in a single up-or-down vote. It was voted down by a landslide 29-to-71 percent.
There were a lot of reasons the 1978 amendments failed so badly. One was that they were on the ballot with an unpopular proposal to allow casino gambling in South Florida and some voters just voted no on everything. Another was the group thought big and had urged some dramatic structural changes to Florida government — doing away with state Cabinet and making county and circuit judges appointed rather than elected, just to name two.
Still, it was the biggest bundle that made for the biggest defeat.
The 1998 amendments were not nearly as sweeping and most of them passed. Nine were proposed and eight passed.
The one that failed? The one that packaged a bunch of unrelated tax matters with a right to access public officials on upcoming issues.
Another bundle, titled “Miscellaneous Matters and Technical Revisions” got only 55 percent of the vote — enough to pass then, but it wouldn’t have enough to pass now that 60 percent of the vote is needed.
It is human nature to feel more strongly about the things you oppose than the things you support. This means that throwing in a minor feel-good measure with the major controversial ones is not a sure-fire tactic for getting things passed by voters. Especially when a supermajority is needed is needed for passage.
Consider the education package the commission approved on Monday. I like mandating civics courses in public schools (assuming that’s what they mean by the phrase “civic literacy”), but I feel far stronger about not allowing folks in Tallahassee to force local school systems to support charter schools they don’t want.
And term limits for school board members? It’s hard to find capable school board members who understand educational policy. I’d like to hold on to them when that happens. And I enjoy the satisfaction of voting against them when it doesn’t.
This is admittedly a minority view, which is why the proposal was there to encourage people to vote for more charter schools over local objections.
The oddest pairing? A prohibition on vaping in workplaces attached to a ban on offshore oil drilling. Because … well, I’m not creative enough to think of a connection here.
Another big disappointment from the commission was its failure on Monday to put a fix to the primary ballot loophole on the ballot.
Under the Florida Constitution, when only one party fields a candidate in a primary, everyone may vote regardless of party. This gives independents — 27 percent of the Florida electorate — a say. And it prevents minority party voters from being shut out of voting.
The loophole is that if a fake write-in candidate runs as an independent or a minor party candidate, the primary remains a one-party affair. Recruiting ringer write-in candidates has become a standard primary election tactic. And now, will remain so.
This practice is the kind of electoral prestidigitation that elevates candidates who cannot otherwise hope to command a majority. It feeds public cynicism about our democratic processes.
The good news is that the worst proposals did get weeded out in the revision process. It now will be up to voters — and it will only take 41 percent of voters — to weed out the rest.