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Re: SG-W:/ State proposal 2

First, let me say that part of what I like about Smartgrowth Washtenaw is
the good, deep, polite discussions.  I also agree that this discussion is on
topic for this list.  My only regret is that Vivienne is in a heated
re-election campaign and doesn't have time to write the important essay she
would like to.

I want to apologize for equating "undemocratic", which Steve did not say,
with "twisting democracy", which is what he wrote.  I agree with Steve that
campaign financing is a serious problem, but I disagree about the extent.  I
see a very different problem as the point of this proposal, and Steve hinted
at it by saying:

"What I'm looking for is some evidence that the "suburban-controlled
legislature" is that way because of new circumstances outside the political
system that would require a constitutional change to counteract it
(permanent population shift unaccounted for in representation, for example),
as opposed to being due to something else (campaign financing, lobbying
laws, corporate rights vs. citizen rights?) that could be more directly
targeted by a referendum (since legislation is apparently unlikely.)"

The problem is the increasing marginalization of city-dwellers due to sprawl
development.   Cities have to be attractive places to live to curtail
sprawl, but we're losing our self-determination.  Regretfully, all of my
family and too many of my friends who live in Michigan live in suburbs.
When our discussions inevitably touch on transportation, their consensus is
that Ann Arbor's problem is that we need more parking and bigger roads.  As
you might imagine, I profoundly disagree with that assessment.

They are just as convinced that they are right as I am that they are wrong.
In good conscience they vote for legislators that reflect their viewpoint.
As time passes, more and more legislators are being elected that agree with
their view and are willing to take away the rights of city residents to some
degree of self-determination.  The problem isn't so much a population shift
that isn't accounted for in representation as a population shift causing
changes in representation and an increasing propensity to quash local rights
where suburbanites see fit.  The majority will rule, but there is no
protection for minority rights.

Vivienne made two other excellent points in saying this is bad legislation.
One was:
"It is an extremely broad *amendment to the constitution* which would affect
"any law which addresses a matter which a county, city, township, village or
municipal authority could otherwise address under its governing powers...".
The reverberations could be enormous.  Possibly any type of legislative
action could be affected. "

I agree with her assessment of the scope of the potential change (though I
think it was Mike Sklar who pointed out that most recent legislation
infringing on local authority would have passed the 2/3 requirement anyway)
and hope that people will give pause before making what could be profound
change.  However, the range of actual and potential transgressions on local
rights is also exceedingly broad.  The State could take over local roads and
widen them, nullify local zoning codes, eliminate local environmental
protections, etc.  Whether you want to create enough change to prevent all
of that is a personal decision.  From my point of view, the proposal makes a
good compromise between broad sweep of types of legislation to be
restricted, and limited restraint on legislative ability to make change.  A
2/3 majority isn't impossible to achieve for a good law.

The second good point was in the section:
"State and federal oversight is important for good government.  I grew up
during the civil rights era in the South, when many segregationists were
using "states rights" arguments which sound uncomfortably like some of those
being expressed in favor of this measure."

Balance of powers is a point we should always question about proposed
constitutional amendments.  The funny thing is that the U.S. Constitution in
the 10th amendment limits the authority of the federal legislature to what
was already specified in the Constitution.  The only way the federal
legislature can infringe further on state's rights is through amendments to
the Constitution, like the 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th
amendments.  (No, I'm not pretending to be a constitutional scholar, I only
know what I read in my copy of the Constitution.)

The State Constitution doesn't sound like it has such a limitation on State
power.  A really extreme amendment would therefore be like the 10th
amendment, prohibiting the State from making any law that infringes on local
rights beyond specific areas spelled out by the State Constitution.
Requiring a 2/3 majority vote doesn't seem very onerous in comparison.  It
doesn't seem to be such a severe restriction on State or Federal oversight,
either.  This would be a change of the balance of powers in the State,
however.  I wouldn't expect everyone to be comfortable with a change like
that, even if they felt some change was needed.

I'm sure Vivienne wasn't really trying to make it sound like Michigan cities
are trying to prevent the State from enforcing civil rights laws.

Ken Clark

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