Got a slick little publication in the mail last week, courtesy of the University of Denver. Grandly titled “Foundation of a Great State — The Future of Colorado’s Constitution,” it’s the product of heavy liftin’ and deep thinkin’ by a — you guessed it! — blue ribbon panel of distinguished Coloradoans.
During the fall of 2007, the deep thinkers “… met on an intensive basis, spending more than 40 hours listening to presentations, discussing issues and formulating recommendations.”
Not surprisingly, they concluded, as many have before them, that our state constitution is a mess. It’s a contradictory mish-mash of voter-initiated and legislatively referred amendments, which “frustrate the ability of policy makers to respond to changing times …”
So what should be done?
I won’t bore you with the panel’s 12 weighty recommendations, except to note that they’re well-meaning, apparently sensible, carefully thought out and politically irrelevant.
They are, in other words, a perfect expression of a certain kind of ivory-tower sensibility.
Let’s examine the members of the panel.
Jim Griesemer, the dean emeritus of the School of Business at the university served as chairman. The other 12 members came exclusively from the nonprofit and business worlds. Not one of them had ever held elected office, been a lobbyist or worked in government. Not one had any but a theoretical grasp of the problems and intricacies of representative democracy, of the complex interplay of interest groups, party politics and raw ego that we call politics.
The panel’s final report regarded politicians and activists, whether of the left or the right, with unconcealed disdain. “A growing flood of amendments, many of which are brought forth by well-funded special interests, has created a tangled web of constitutional provisions.”
So how should the helpless citizens, who were apparently duped into voting for all of these murky initiatives, cut the Gordian knot?
Simple: let our betters tell us what to do.
It is proposed that Colorado create a “Constitutional Revision Commission” that would meet periodically and recommend proposed changes to the voters, without the messy procedures that are such an unfortunate consequence of democracy.
No collecting tens of thousands of signatures, no arm-twisting in the legislature to get a measure referred to the voters — just the dignified deliberations of 33 upstanding citizens, to be appointed by the governor, the speaker of the House, the Senate president and the Supreme Court.
No current legislators would be eligible — and the members of the commission would be unpaid.
Since the commissioners would be expected to meet frequently during an entire year, and to hold at least one public hearing in every congressional district, that’d pretty much keep out the hoi-polloi, i.e., people of average means.
It’s not surprising, really. Successful people — of my acquaintance, anyway — don’t much like the disorder and inefficiency of democracy. They’re used to running enterprises in a rational, orderly and goal-directed way.
Democracy’s obvious faults — such as letting a lunatic like Douglas Bruce rewrite the constitution — drive them nuts.
But the problems with our constitution, which the D.U. panel so accurately diagnosed, can’t be solved by the high-minded intervention of the rich grownups among us. Just as you expect businesspeople to solve business problems, you need politicians to solve political problems.
And don’t expect the solutions to be comprehensive, logical or even intelligent — they’ll be temporary, inadequate and mostly ineffective.
But they’ll work just well enough and, somehow, the state will muddle through.
Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Ritter has announced yet another grand plan to reform education by establishing state graduation standards.
We’ll have all sorts of grandiose requirements for the hapless teenagers who are snoozing their way through high school, requirements that will lead every one of them to a world-class diploma.
Even the Republicans are enchanted by the vision of yet another level of tests and requirements, seeing them as embodying some kind of “reform.”
Ask yourself: Would Harvard allow the legislature to establish the university’s graduation requirements? Would Colorado College? Would Colorado Tech?
Why not just let local school boards do what they’re supposed to do — set budgets and make policy?
That’s what we call local democracy — government in its most intimate, dynamic and responsive form. Why do we think that lawmakers in Denver or Washington will necessarily do better than local boards?
Actually, we don’t think so, but they do, and they have the ability to take that power away from us.
But we can take it back: just get down in the dirt, fight, organize and learn the political game.
Think it can’t be done? Just ask the Dougster …
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.