In the closing hours of the last day of its regular session, the Missouri House took up a resolution calling for a national constitutional convention.
“The people’s confidence in their government has eroded,” said state Rep. Keith Frederick, a Republican from Rolla. A constitutional convention, he said, would stop that erosion by sending “the balance of power back to the states.”
His colleagues agreed. They passed a resolution, becoming the 12th state to seek a rewrite of the nation’s foundational document.
It turns out, though, that the balance of power among governments is a tricky concept. Because just a few minutes later, without pausing to note the irony, Frederick and his friends told Kansas City and St. Louis they had no right to set their own minimum wages.
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Only state legislators are wise enough to do that.
Such bald hypocrisy runs rampant among state lawmakers, of course. They routinely wail about unfunded mandates from Washington, then gleefully tell cities and counties and school boards what to do.
But Frederick’s insistence on a national constitutional convention got me thinking — what about a convention to rewrite the Missouri Constitution? To give cities and counties a little power of their own, apart from the brainiacs in Jefferson City?
As it turns out, there’s an app for that. Missourians can amend their constitution by petition and a statewide vote or by approving measures submitted by the legislature. That’s pretty slow. But the constitution provides a third way to discard the document. Article 12 requires the state to ask residents every 20 years if they want a state constitutional convention.
The first vote was set for 1962. That means the state will ask voters in 2022 if they’d like to chuck the existing state constitution and start over.
Nothing, it seems, would be off-limits. Missourians could add a few amendments or tear their government apart.
What might that look like? Let’s start at the top — the General Assembly is far too large. Phelps County, with 45,000 people, claims four members in the Missouri House, including Rep. Frederick. That’s absurd.
Let’s cut the legislature, maybe to one chamber. Why two terms for the governor? Four years, then go home. The lieutenant governor should run with the governor. Set up a nonpartisan commission to draw congressional districts. Award electoral votes proportionally.
Did you know Missouri has its own bill of rights? That might deserve a second look. The judiciary could be on the table. Education, law enforcement, civil rights — up in the air.
Let’s allow cities to decide their own taxes. The Hancock amendment, requiring votes whenever the wind blows? Out. Let Kansas City run its own police department. And set its own minimum wage. The government closest to the people governs best.
Sure, this seems drastic. But it’s less drastic than calling a national constitutional convention, where rights such as free speech and free practice of religion could disappear.
Also at risk: equal treatment under the law, protection from self-incrimination, cruel punishments or self-government itself.
Supporters of the national convention insist the scope of amendments would be limited. Don’t buy it. That’s what they said before the original Constitutional Convention, and look at how that turned out.
No. Let’s call a Missouri convention in 2022 and show the nation how it’s done.
I’m sure Rep. Frederick won’t mind, even if Phelps County loses a seat or two.