Ballot results confirm public wants Constitution amended; now what?

Public wants Constitution amended

Ballot initiatives in a couple of states and dozens of cities across the United States calling the question of whether the Constitution should be amended to overturn the disastrous Citizens United decision passed easily this month. Citizens throughout the country voted overwhelmingly on Nov. 6th to have their legislators in Congress pass an amendment to the Constitution to declare that only human beings, not properties (corporations), are entitled to constitutional rights, to end the doctrine that money is a form of speech and that Congress and state legislatures can and should regulate  election spending.

In over 150 cities around the country, voters passed measures overturning the flawed doctrines that money is a form of speech and that corporations have constitutional rights, often by large numbers.  In Eau Claire, WI the vote was 71% in favor of a measure stating, “Should the US Constitution be amended to establish that regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting freedom of speech, by stating that only human beings, not corporations, unions, or PACs, are entitled to constitutional rights?

In largely conservative Pueblo, Colorado, where the city newspaper came out against the measure, residents still voted 65% in favor of Move to Amend’s resolution! Move to Amend volunteers in Massachusetts collected signatures to place the constitutional amendment question before one third of the population of their state. The “MA Democracy Amendment Question” passed by 79%. These results comport with the ballot initiative that passed during the Republican primary in WI where the suburb of West Ellis passed a Move to Amend measure by 80% of the vote.

Voters in Mendocino County, CA where volunteers collected signatures to become the first California county to place a Move to Amend citizen’s initiative on the ballot, explicitly voted to “stand with the Move to Amend campaign” by a 73% margin. Move to Amend resolutions also passed in several towns in Illinois and Ohio and Oregon, all by similar landslide margins.

Voters in Montana approved a resolution by 75% after voting for Gov. Romney by 55%. Voters in Colorado passed a ballot to ask Congress to pass an amendment “that allows congress and the states to limit campaign contributions and spending” by 73%. The  desire to amend the Constitution has broad bipartisan support around the country.

Common Cause put forward several measures calling to narrowly overturn the Citizens United decision and grant Congress the authority to regulate campaign spending. These measures also passed by a wide margin. In San Francisco approval was 80% for their measures and 72% in Richmond, CA. The group’s ballot measure in Chicago passed by 74%. Common Cause was also an active member of the MA Democracy Amendment Coalition.

Joseph Overton

These results indicate that the politicians in Washington, who oppose amending the Constitution to help get the absurd amounts of money out of our elections and to abolish the doctrine that corporations have constitutional rights, are currently functioning outside of the will of the people, outside — to use political jargon — the Overton Window. Because these pols are standing in the way of the will of the people, they need to lose their jobs starting in 2014. That is how representative government is supposed to work. That is, at least, according to democratic theory and the “window” theory put forth by Joseph Overton. The Citizens United decision has the potential to render that theory obsolete.

Now what?

Mt. Gov. Schweitzer promised to “start a prairie fire” by passing the anti-Citizens United ruling. More states will be passing resolutions this year. It is important to find out, if you do not already know, where your state representatives, Congressperson and Senators stand on amending the Constitution to overturn the two roots of legal reasoning that led to the Citizens United decision, i.e., corporate constitutional rights and the doctrine that money is speech. If they support an amendment, then you need to help make sure that person wins re-election in 2014. If they oppose an amendment, citizens need to get involved in the Party process to find a candidate who supports passing an amendment to the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, get money out of elections,  and end the corporate domination of society that corporate rights enables.  Our view is that it does not matter what Party an amendment supporter is with or what the politician’s ideology is. We need both houses of Congress comprised of two thirds in support of amending the Constitution, and the body is not even close to that today.

amendment battleground

Go ahead and take a break from the intense activities that surrounded this last election. Then come back to the movement with the understanding that we need a Congress that is with us, that elections must become a focus of our future efforts and that a large majority of the public is with us. Voters need to become more broadly and deeply aware of this issue and be recruited to help with the advocacy (phone calls, e-mails, letters) for resolutions in the states that have not yet passed resolutions with strong amendment language. When the day comes that Congress takes this up and for states legislators to vote in support of such an amendment be it in 2014 or many years from now, we, the people, need to overwhelm them in support of a good amendment.

This movement needs to:

  1. continue to educate the public,
  2. continue to build the base of supporters,
  3. continue get local and state resolutions passed,
  4. plan on getting amendment supporters from any Party elected in 2014,
  5. to that end, pressure President Obama to lead on this issue.

Obama’s potential model

Historically, the length of time it takes to amend the U.S. Constitution is a function of how much support an amendment has.  Given the results of ballot initiatives and the numbers of local (hundreds) and state resolutions or legislator actions passed to date (eleven so far), it’s not a wild fantasy to believe that Congress will pass an amendment during the President’s second term. Getting Obama to use the bully pulpit should a matter of pressuring him to do so since he 1) articulated consideration for support of an amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision (see quote below), 2) expressed his view that “corporations aren’t people; people are people” during his first campaign speech in OH, 3) claims that Lincoln is his favorite President and 4) is reported to have seen the movie, “Lincoln” in theaters now which shows that after the Civil War, that president made the passing of the 13th Amendment his central objective.  If Obamacare is the President’s legacy for his first term; the 28th Amendment would be a legacy that would cement his place in history as the one who kept our Republic democratic by reversing the corporate coup set into motion by this “misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious” Supreme Court decision. It is one goal the President could set for himself that actually has broad-based support. In our deeply divided nation, that is not a bad goal for the public to establish for Obama. He just needs to be convinced that this is the case.

leaning toward “amendment process”

Two groups, Free Speech for People and Roots Action have already begun an e-mail campaign to ask Obama to “make amending the Constitution a priority for his second term. That is a good first step, but he needs more than thousands of form letters in his e-mail box. Perhaps the best argument we can make to the President has to do with his agenda. He wants the deficit addressed. That will be easier if 2/3rds of Congress would support an amendment since such a super-majority is less likely to be made up of signers of Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge. The President can use our issue to advance his agenda to raise taxes on the 2% of the wealthiest Americans. No doubt, he would make extensive use of such a Congress to advance the remainder of his agenda. It’s our task to make amending the Constitution part of his agenda.

We will want to make this a primary consideration in voter’s minds for the midterm elections. Therefore, it would make most sense to hold off for now and let the Congress and the President address comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. Free Speech for People is jumping the gun a bit, but it will not hurt to give the President a taste of what is to come. We want to have Obama make amending the Constitution the main issue in 2014 but not before. It will not pass, but the obstruction by those who want the corruption that Citizens United put in place to continue can and must be used against them during the next election cycle. That would serve both the interest of the President and the movement to amend.

For those who feel that more time is needed to build the movement “horizontally” first, see the list above. Putting pressure on President Obama is just one step of five to be taken in the coming four years. There is no certainty that a pro-amendment president will be in elected in 2016. We need to push for a vote, with the President’s bully pulpit with us, while the conditions are right. They are not ripe. We will not get this in 2014, but that is the year we should begin the process of building a Congress that supports democracy, not plutocracy. We must make this a top priority, and the President can help do this in a way that no amount of grassroots organizing can match.

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