Tag Archives: Marriage Amendment-Minnesota

Truth Lurks Behind Semantics as Court Deliberates Who Names Constitutional Amendments

It’s plain hokum. If you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em. It’s an old political trick. But this time it won’t work ~ Harry S. Truman

We can hope that HST was prescient and that the thinly-veiled effort to influence the turnout of the next election – and those that follow – will wither under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court and the informed caution of Minnesota voters.  The Uptake coverage of yesterday’s proceedings captured a process that seemed to confuse, even irk, the jurists;  the sparring among opponents certainly confused this viewer.

The issue on the Court’s docket this week is not on the wording of the two proposed amendments but specifically on whether the Legislature or the Executive Branch (i.e. the Secretary of State) has the authority and responsibility to prescribe the wording on the ballot that will face Minnesota voters in November.  A sub-issue stems from Governor Dayton’s veto of the original legislation initiated by the IR majority;  this raises the question whether amendment titles are considered ordinary legislation, subject to gubernatorial veto, or if they come under the Legislature’s exclusive power to propose Constitution amendments for voter approval.

The Court’s questions were focused and piercing.  At times the members of the Court got a tad testy at the evasive maneuvers of the attorneys.

For example, Attorney Jordan Lorence, representing the IR lawmakers and other amendment advocates, argued at one point that the fact that Ritchie had not edited the title of the 2008 Legacy amendment indicates that leaving the legislative language intact is normal practice.  Solicitor General Alan Gilbert, representing Ritchie and Attorney General Lori Swanson, reminded the Court and observers that the 1919 law clearly designated the Secretary of State as the authority responsible for the ballot language. Gilbert projected that disruption of that process would put into question nearly a century of constitutional amendments to the Minnesota Constitution..

The courtroom drama masks the real issue that lurks in the wings in this and several other states. Republicans who hold the majority in the Minnesota Legislature see legislation by Constitutional Amendment as a viable option – at least for the duration of their tenure.

One change that was clearly on the minds of some of the members of the Court would be to resolve the current dilemma by dropping or postponing the proposed amendments altogether.  Given the enormity of the policy implications that echo the judgment faced by Solomon himself this does seem like an option.

The Court has indicated that a ruling will be forthcoming within a month, still leaving the four weeks preparation time the Secretary of State’s office and local organizers will need to implement changes as necessary.


To review the July 31 happenings in the Minnesota Supreme Court click on The Uptake’s video coverage.  Meanwhile, the individual amendments (nicknamed for now the “Marriage Amendment” and the “Voter ID Amendment” are best tracked as distinct issues, separated at birth in the Legislature, joined as they face the Judicial Branch as a clash between the Executive and Legislative branches of state government.


Minnesota Constitution-Amendments that balance continuity and change

If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.                                                                Abraham Maslow

 The proliferation of amendment proposals on the November 2012 ballot suggest this might be a mantra for the IR legislature.  The nails of Voter ID and same-sex marriage have long pierce the political skin of the right wing.  The Governor’s hammer and feisty DFL opposition have left no choice but to bring out the cudgel and start hammering.  Now it’s up to the voters.  Once again, a bit of history exposes how the amendment hammer has been brandished in Minnesota history.

Writing in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in January 2012, journalist Jim Ragsdale warns that it’s “hard to undo” an amendment that has been blessed by the voters.  Policy and budget decisions are normally embedded in laws passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.  Laws can be changed when external factors intrude or political tides shift.  Amending the constitution, while allowing direct decisions by the people, locks in changes that are much harder revisit, much less change.   In Minnesota the process is straightforward:  If both houses of the Legislature approve a proposed constitutional amendment it goes directly onto the general election ballot, a relatively easy first stop..  In Wisconsin and Iowa,  Ragsdale notes a proposed amendment must be approved by two successive legislative sessions, with an election intervening, before it goes to the voters.  Some other states require a ‘super majority’ legislative vote.

 That puts a heavy burden on Minnesota voters.  Earlier in the current process, when legislators pushed for Constitutional amendments, Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem (IR-Rochester) advised that “it does place an additional responsibility on us to be cautious, to be careful, to understand what the Constitution is for, to enter into these decisions with due consideration.”

So now it’s up to the voters to fully comprehend the proposed amendments and the possible trajectory of an approved Constitutional amendment.  As always, a look back at history can help.

Until 1898, the Constitution was amended by a simple majority of both houses of the Legislature, then ratified by a simple majority of the voters at the next general election. The total number of voters who cast any ballot at the election did not determine whether an amendment was approved or rejected.  In 1898 the rules changed – by a Constitutional amendment nicknamed the Brewer’s amendment – so that a Constitutional amendment, once approved by a simple of majority of both chambers of the Legislature at one session, had to be ratified by a majority of all the electors voting at the election whether or not the voter expressed an aye or nay on the proposal.  Historian Betty Kane, author of a definitive history Constitutional amendments, writes that “before 1889 it was ‘easy to get amendments proposed, and easy to get them ratified.  Once the state imposed stricter standard via the so-called ‘brewers’ amendment’ of 1898, the adoption of amendments dropped to less than one-third of its previous level.”

Over the decades some 213 proposed amendments have been made their way to the ballot box; 120 have passed.   In conjunction with Sunshine Week 2012 I dipped gingerly into the history amendments to the Minnesota Constitution.  Thanks to the resources of the Legislative Reference Library I got a glimmer of just how that hammer has been put to the test over the years.  Even a quick review of that history gives a voter pause – at the whims of Minnesota voters and the long-term consequences of their votes.

 During the past session legislators grappled with a jumble of proposed constitutional amendments that now present voters with two monumental opportunities to express their opposition or support for the Voter ID and the Marriage Amendment.  Information and misinformation abound.  In the end, voters must listen with care, consider the source, and way the consequences  — the goal is not to “win” but to assure that the Constitutional amendments achieve the challenge put forth by Betty Kane, the challenge to balance the forces of continuity and change.

Northeast happenings

Last week was outdoor festival time in Northeast.  Neighbors turned out en masse for the Windom Park/Pillsbury carnival then gathered again on Saturday for Johnstock  Lots of sunshine, arts and crafts, community resources, rides, kids and more kids – topped in my view with a tour of the once and future magnificent Hollywood Theater.

Here’s a quick look at some of the myriad activities that friends and neighbors  are participating and contributing:

* Northeast Minneapolitans who oppose the “Marriage Amendment” are invited to the NE Votes No Kickoff on Saturday, June 16, 2:00-5:00 at the Soap Factory.  Near neighbors in St. Anthony and Columbia Heights, North Minneapolis and surrounding areas are welcome.  Free and open.   The Soap Factory is at
514 Second St SE
Minneapolis MN 55414.   Email questions to  nevotesno@gmail.com

*For months – or is it decades – North and Northeast Minneapolis have been separated by the mighty Mississippi.  Though the river has kept on rolling along between the two communities, for decades. sturdy bridges (Plymouth, Broadway, Lowry and Camden) constructed decades ago eliminated the need to portage or wait for low tide.  As long as locals can recall – and until recent years –making the trek from North to Northeast or vice versa, has been no problem – until the bridges were declared unsafe for cars, trucks and buses.

The good news is that the arches that are the main support of the not-quite-new-yet Lowry Bridge now gleam in the sun, like a sweet promise that hope is on the way that motorized vehicles will once again flow with ease above Old Man River.

For the latest update on “The Lowry Link Between Two Communities” you will want to participate in the next Northeast Network meeting.  It’s Thursday, June 14, 7:30-8:45 a.m. at the Eastside Food Co-op, 2551 Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis.

Guest speakers are Carol Anderson, Hennepin County Department of Community Works and Transit, Bill E. Feltow, Engineer with the City of Minneapolis, Jeff Skrenes, Hawthorne Neighborhood Association, and a representative of the County Commissioners TBA.

As with all NE Network sessions the June 14 gathering is free and open to the public.  Free coffee, muffins and fruit for all comers.  RSVP to board@eastsidefood.coop

* Trivia fan alert!   Unlock the mental cupboard where you store  your Co-op trivia.  You’ll need those dormant snippets to ace the competition at the Co-op Trivia contest set for Saturday, June 9, 5:00 p.m. at the 331 Club, 331 13th Avenue NE in NE Minneapolis.  The United Nations has designated 2012 is the International Year of Cooperatives. In so doing, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared that “Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility. ”

So now you have the answer to one  basic trivia question  – Who passed the declaration for the International Year of Cooperates?  The rest is up to you.  Hint:  You will be questioned on food, co-ops and the environment.

The June 9 event at the 331 Club is one of several Co-op Pub Trivia contests sponsored by several Twin Cities area food co-ops:  Eastside Food Co-op, Just Food C-op, Lakewinds Co-op, Linden Hills Co-op, Mississippi Market, River Market, Sewad Co-op Grocery & Deli, St. Peter Food Co-op, Valley Natural Foods and The Bridge Co-op.

Whether you’re a Co-op regular, a Trivia fanatic or just a neighbor looking for a gathering of healthy-eating and smart shopping Trivia-philes, check it out!