Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 28, 2010

Michigan Proposal 1 a mystery to some

Measure allows constitutional convention


TRAVERSE CITY — Christiane Sanburn knows little about a proposal to convene delegates to rewrite Michigan's constitution.

She'd researched candidates for office in advance of Tuesday's general election, but information on proposals has been harder to find — especially statewide initiatives like Proposal 1, which automatically raises the constitutional convention question every 16 years.

It is not the same as local Proposal 1, which has to do with Traverse City Light & Power.

"It would be a good idea to do a mailing with all the proposals," said Sanburn, of Cadillac. "Everyone who has an address. That would be a good way to reach everybody."

A local League of Women Voters group is working to get information to voters in the days before they head to the polls.

Members this week hosted a forum that discussed the proposal's pros and cons. Dennis Lennox, Cheboygan County's drain commissioner and co-chairman of Yes on Proposal 1, spoke for supporters.

Susan Grimes Width, a former state legislator and member of the League of Women Voters of the Grand Traverse Area, presented the opposing side.

"I came to find out which way to vote, and I still don't know," said Margaret Kauffman, of Traverse City. "It's entirely a matter of which is the most expeditious way to do it."

Proposal 1 would allow a constitutional convention to meet in 2011. The state's constitution has not been revised since 1963. Voters would have final say over any document drafted.

Opponents contend a convention could cost as much as $45 million. Proponents say that figure is inflated.

Unknown factors, such as how long the convention would last and how much delegates would be paid, will affect the final cost, Width said.

"I can't imagine it's that out of date," said Jack Christensen, of Traverse City, who voted against it on his absentee ballot. "An amendment should be enough to take care of it."

The U.S. Constitution has lasted hundreds of years with amendments added over time, Christensen said. He is concerned about how partisan politics might affect the outcome.

A convention is the only way to fix what is broken with government, because lawmakers have not proven they can solve problems themselves, Lennox said.

"This is our chance as citizens to take back our government," he said. "It has come to this."

But adding amendments one at a time would better allow voters to weigh their merits, rather than voting yes or no on an entire document, Width said.

A convention could raise such issues as term limits, a part-time Legislature, finances and redistricting counties and townships.

Term limits are best addressed in a convention because legislators aren't likely to suggest changes, Lennox said.

Width said a constitution should include the structure and limitations of government and leave funding and taxation to statute.

"I really don't believe the problems in Michigan are constitutional," she said. "I firmly believe that we can fix anything in our constitution that needs fixing."

Judy Jones, of Traverse City, supported the proposal on her absentee ballot. She would like to see a constitution address limited spending.

"It's been quite awhile since it's been changed," she said. "I thought change was necessary."