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Michiganders vote yes on felon law, no on ConCon

BY CLAIRE GOSCICKI AND ROBIN VEECK
Daily Staff Reporters
Published November 2, 2010

Michigan voters approved a measure that bars individuals with certain felony records from holding elected office and dismissed a proposal to revise the state Constitution on yesterday’s ballot.

The passage of Proposal 10-2 will result in a revision of the state Constitution that will bar individuals from running for an elected position or entering a public position if they have committed a certain crime in the last 20 years. According to the proposal, individuals are ineligible if they have been “convicted of a felony involving dishonesty, deceit, fraud, or a breach of the public trust … and the conviction was related to the person’s official capacity.”

Voters approved the proposal by a vote of about 75 to 25 on Tuesday.

The initiative is widely thought to be related to former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatick’s public scandal, though its sponsor — Senator Tupac Hunter (D–Detroit) — told The Detroit News last week that the motivation had a broader scope than Kilpatrick.

“It’s common sense. It’s saying that the people of Michigan want a higher standard for us to meet,” Hunter told the Detroit News.

A public opinion poll released last week by EPIC-MRA showed that 76 percent of voters supported Prop. 2, while 19 percent opposed it and 5 percent were undecided.

Vincent Hutchings, a professor in the University’s political science department and a research professor at the Institute for Social Research, suggested that voters with strong concerns about crime and corruption may have been the most motivated to vote.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily last week Hutchings predicted that Prop. 2 would be rejected. He also said the initiative is unnecessary because there are currently no issues with felons running for office.

“I’m always wary of a solution that’s designed to fix a problem that’s nonexistent,” Hutchings said.

Representatives from various political student groups around campus, including the University’s chapters of College Democrats and College Libertarians, said their groups had not taken strong stances on Prop. 2.

According to a press release issued by Hunter, the proposal will require that all candidates for elective office file an affidavit with the Secretary of State. The affidavit must state that the candidate has not been convicted of a felony included in the proposal.

The other ballot question, known as Proposal 10-1, appears on Michigan’s election ballot every 16 years and gives voters the option to call for a state constitutional convention. Michiganders voted down the proposal for the third consecutive time since the proposal was last updated in1963. As of 4 a.m., with 97 percent of precincts reporting, the proposal was rejected by approximately 67 percent of the vote.

Doug Pratt, a spokesperson for the labor union Michigan Education Association — one of several organizations that publicly opposed Prop. 1 — said he expected that the proposal would be rejected once again.

Pratt said one of the reasons he thinks the proposal didn’t pass is due to voters’ lack of education about the issue.

“When people see something on the ballot and they don’t know much about it … they’re probably going to vote against it,” he said.

Pratt said it was in students’ best interests to reject the proposal, adding that constitutional convention delegates could have made changes to the Constitution that would have affected higher education funding and University governance in unpredictable ways.

The Michigan Student Assembly passed a resolution last week supporting Prop. 1, saying a revision of the state constitution could present an opportunity to add student representation to the University’s Board of Regents.

MSA Engineering Rep. Sean Walser, who helped draft the resolution, wrote in an e-mail interview that a revision of the state Constitution could have reserved one seat on the University Board of Regents for a student.

“Students at the University have been struggling with this issue for nearly 20 years, and having the Constitution rewritten would certainly make it easier for this initiative to be taken up by the state government,” Walser wrote.

LSA freshman Simon Boehme, who unsuccessfully attempted to get his name on the Board of Regents ballot last summer, wrote in an e-mail interview that students would provide “valuable voices on pressing issues” if given the option to serve on the board.

Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, state Universities of Michigan, which lobbies for Michigan public universities, said specific complaints about the state Constitution should be addressed through constitutional amendments instead of through a convetion. He added that the state Constitution has been amended 31 times since the 1960s.

“The Constitution works well,” Boulus said. “I think the people of the state know the best approach is to put out an amendment and let it get debated, rather than revising the whole Constitution.”

The ballot initiative will appear again on the state ballot in 2026.