A good reason for a Constitutional Convention

My take on the news

Lonnie Barham
Posted 10/9/14

PREPARATORY COMMISSION REPORT EARNS “F” GRADE: After months of effort and untold taxpayer dollars spent, the Constitutional Convention Preparatory Commission issued its report. The report is so …

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A good reason for a Constitutional Convention

My take on the news


PREPARATORY COMMISSION REPORT EARNS “F” GRADE: After months of effort and untold taxpayer dollars spent, the Constitutional Convention Preparatory Commission issued its report. The report is so short, simple, uninformative, and slanted that a third grader could have written it. Any adult contributing to its writing should receive an “F” for his effort.

Of course, the commission was composed almost entirely of sitting legislators with the remainder appointed by legislators.  So, should the public have expected something of value? Of course not!

The report outlines in less than 200 words a few possible questions that might be considered at a constitutional convention. Then, with little evidence and using a lot of anti-convention guessing, it slants the cost of a convention to an amount intended to dissuade voters from approving it.

It seems clear that the legislators who packed the commission don’t want a Constitutional Convention. It’s understandable. A convention would take power out of their hands and hand it over to the people.

RenewRI, a pro-convention group that wants to strengthen government ethics, reduce the power of the Speaker of the House and other legislative leaders, improve the judicial selection process, make legislative redistricting fairer, and ban deals such as the 38 Studios fiasco, said that “convening a Constitutional Convention is an indispensable right, one that will help to restore confidence in our democratic institutions, protect basic rights and ensure fairer, more accountable and effective government.”

The group is right. We need a Constitutional Convention. Since the majority of Rhode Islanders are too apathetic to remove ineffective and corrupt legislators via the ballot box, the only way that average and engaged citizens can exert control over government is through a Constitutional Convention.

Let’s hope voters see through the Preparatory Commission’s silly attempt to fool the people of Rhode Island. If power-hungry, special interest-kissing legislators are ever to be put in their proper place, it will be at the ballot box in November if voters approve a Constitutional Convention.

FUNG HAS BEST JOBS PLAN: All three gubernatorial candidates outlined their proposals for creating jobs in Rhode Island.

Raimondo wants to create an “innovation institute” on land vacated by I-195 rerouting. She has said that we “can’t cut or tax our way out” of our economic morass, we have “to grow our way out.” Her institute would require taxpayers to foot some of the upfront cost and would end up with the state picking which educational and industry groups locate there. In essence, her proposal is for industry and jobs to grow in R.I. with government help, stimulation and oversight.

Fung wants to attract jobs with a reduced corporate income tax rate, reduced estate (death) tax, lowered sales tax, 5 percent reduction in state personnel spending, and stopping payment of the annual $12.5 million to 38 Studios’ bond holders.

Bob Healey, the Moderate Party candidate (former Cool Moose), has no specific plan. He said, “I do not believe that it is the government’s role to create jobs.” He calls for an economic plan that, in essence, gets government out of industry’s way; one that cuts regulations and creates a better environment for private enterprise to create jobs.

Healey thinks that “job creation plans, for the most part, are little more than election gimmicks. They require the taxpayer to infuse money on a hope of direly needed employment. There is no magic jobs creation. To offer such is ... preying on the people. They deserve more. They deserve to change the system fundamentally.”

Pouring taxpayer dollars into new programs to create jobs has failed miserably in Rhode Island. While Raimondo’s plan brings private industry into the picture somewhat, it still is a government-sponsored, taxpayer-supported program. Fung’s proposal seems to implement much of what Healey talked about. If Fung can do what he proposes while adopting some of Healey’s philosophical approaches, we could have an ideal environment for jobs creation.

SHOULD HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS PASS CITIZENSHIP TEST? A commentary piece in last Thursday’s Providence Journal talked about a study that shows only 4 percent of American high school seniors can pass the basic citizenship test given to immigrants. Ninety-two percent of immigrants pass the test on their first try.

The test is imminently simple. It asks such questions as ‘who is in charge of the executive branch?’, and ‘what do we call the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution?’.

Doesn’t it make sense that children who were born into American citizenship should know as much about our form of government as children who acquire citizenship through naturalization after passing the citizenship test?

Many states are rightfully considering requiring high school students to pass the citizenship test. Let’s hope a few of our legislators push Rhode Island to follow those examples.

OBAMA DOING IN AFGHANISTAN WHAT HE SHOULD HAVE DONE IN IRAQ: Having clearly made a mistake by not reaching a deal with Iraqi officials to allow some U.S. troops to stay after 2011, President Obama has reached such an agreement with Afghanistan officials to keep troops there beyond the end of this year when all were supposed to be pulled out.

Obama’s argument that had he kept troops in Iraq the country would still have destabilized and ISIS would still have taken control of much of the country is ludicrous. If U.S. troops on the ground would not have helped Iraq, then why does Obama think it will help Afghanistan?

The answer is simple. Obama made a big mistake by pulling all U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011. He allowed a terrorist organization to expand and he knows it. He is now trying not to make the same mistake in Afghanistan – he just won’t admit it.

SAVE THE BAY WENT TOO FAR: In 2009 a developer built a $1.8 million house at Point Judith after a faulty survey put a few feet of the private owner’s property onto public land. Not aware of the inaccurate survey until after the house was built and accepted for sale, the developer then sought to purchase the 19 feet of public land the house sat on. When that failed, he sought to move the house 19 feet to put it squarely on his land.  Unfortunately, the move would also put the house 19 feet closer to the water.

The Coastal Resource Management Council (CRMC) ruled that the house could be moved without disturbing any coastal features and would not result in any significant adverse environmental impact.

Save the Bay objected. They filed suit in Superior Court seeking a ruling that would require the developer demolish the house. The court ruled in favor of the developer, saying that CRMC has the expertise to interpret its own rules and regulations to determine environmental impact. The house can now be moved instead of destroyed.

What this whole debacle tells us is that sometimes a well-meaning organization can go far overboard in its quest to fulfill its mission. In this case, Save the Bay acted in an egregiously unreasonable manner in seeking to penalize someone $1.8 million for a mistake that CRMC says caused no significant impact.

Save the Bay has hundreds of thousands of supporters in Rhode Island. However, every time it does something stupid like this, it loses supporters.

CAN WASHINGTON DO ANYTHING RIGHT? That has to be the question most Americans are asking after revelations about the Secret Service’s abject failures in recent weeks. The failures seem to tell America that Washington’s endemic incompetence has filtered down all the way from the President and Congress to the “worker bees” in essential federal agencies.

Why did the Secret Service allow an armed contractor with three convictions for assault and battery to ride an elevator with the President? How could the Secret Service have allowed a White House fence jumper to make it into the White House through an unlocked door and all the way to the East Room?

These are troubling questions. Even more unsettling is this question: Has Washington’s top-to-bottom incompetence gotten so bad that Washington can’t be fixed?

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Froma Harrop, a liberal syndicated columnist, wrote on Sunday advocating that all drugs be legalized. Her point was that after decades of the “war on drugs,” drugs are more plentiful than ever before. And drug cartels and street gangs are the “war’s” only winners. She quoted conservative economist Milton Friedman, perhaps the greatest economist since Adam Smith, who said, “If you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel.”


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