Gov. Daniels wants big, bold ideas from his commission on government change, and even a constitutional convention is on the table:
The Republican governor has more in mind than just amending the state constitution, which has happened regularly in Indiana’s history. Daniels has floated the idea of calling a constitutional convention, where delegates would rewrite the constitution from square one. Although parts of the current document could be retained, anything dealing with the structure of government and the legal rights of Hoosiers could potentially be changed.
This possibility is, not to overstate the response, freaking out some people. Doug’s reaction is typical: “Maybe I don’t trust the passions and attention span of my fellow citizens, but this strikes me as a spectacularly Bad Idea. Such a convention wouldn’t have to limit itself to property tax reforms or any other particular charge. Just a gigantic can of worms.”
A certain amount of fear and loathing is understandable. Just look at the national constitutional convention. Nothing much was expected from that gathering. It wasn’t even originally suggested by the central government — weak and ineffectual under the Articles of Confederation — but by Virginia. Only five colonies signed on originally, and all but one (Rhode Island) finally agreed after the central government gave its imprimatur to the idea. The convention had one task and one task only: “the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government and the preservation of the Union.” But rarely has there been such a collection of dangerous minds, and those gathered have become known as the Founders because they threw everything out and started from scratch.
The possibility that lesser minds might attempt that with Indiana’s constitution inspires a certain amount of trepidation. Just look at Article I, for example, the state’s version of a Bill of Rights. It’s a thing of beauty, 37 sections instead of the U.S. Bill of Rights’ mere 10, and none of us should want it messed with.
On the other hand (you knew it was coming, right?), the Philadelphia convention was followed by a vigorous detabe — the likes of which the world had never seen — that stretched from coast to coast as Americans took to the streets and the newspapers and pamphlets to talk about the kind of country they wanted. Part of the reason for the convention in the first place — as expressed by George Washington — was that the “American idea” was in danger of being lost in the clash of regional prejudices and local imperatives. Could there be a national government strong enough to establish a national interest but with enough checks and balances to guarantee basic freedoms? This great experiment in liberty began with the free exercise of that liberty.
Is there an “Indiana idea”? I don’t know, and it certainly would be risky to let whoever the politicians today appoint try to come up with one. But I presume that whatever a convention came up with would be the subject of a statewide conversation and some kind of ratification process. That’s a conversation if might be useful to engage in. If we can’t trust Hoosiers to have it, we might as well just let the General Assembly rule us and stay home quietly, mailing out our tax payments when we are told to.