Come election day, Michigan residents will vote on Proposal 1 — a statewide ballot initiative that gives voters the option to call for a constitutional convention to rewrite or revise Michigan’s state Constitution.

Last Friday, the University, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber and the Center for Michigan — a non-partisan think tank — held a public policy discussion called Impact 2010 at the Kensington Court Hotel in Ann Arbor, where state policymakers met to discuss the idea of rewriting the Michigan Constitution.

State Sen. Tom George (R–Kalamazoo) spoke in favor of the proposal and said the potential benefits of a constitutional convention — referred to as ConCon — outweigh the risks of not taking action to help the state.

“Good, well-intentioned people are hamstrung by a constitution that was handed to us when Michigan was a rich state,” he said, adding that a constitutional convention is an “opportunity to re-open Michigan for business.”

Arguing that voters should reject Proposal 1, Dianne Byrum, Michigan State University trustee and former state House minority leader, said a constitutional convention would only create a partisan battle and voters would probably reject the new constitution.

“It would be very divisive. We’re going to revive every hot-button issue all over again,” Byrum said. “There is no fatal flaw that needs to be fixed.”

Michigan has rewritten its constitution three times — in 1850, 1908 and 1963. Under the current constitution, the state must include a proposal on the election ballot every 16 years that gives voters the option to elect delegates to revise the state constitution. Voters rejected the proposal in 1978 and 1994.

According to a report on Proposal 1 by Julie Cassidy and Joe Carrasco, both analysts for the non-partisan Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency, partisan elections to choose the 148 delegates for a constitutional convention would need to be held within six months. One delegate would be chosen for each senatorial and representative district in the state.

The report states that delegates would have the power to change the current constitution in any way — including revising the document, submitting amendments or making no changes at all. The revisions would then need to be voted on by Michigan residents.

The Senate Fiscal Agency report estimates that the convention and election costs could exceed $45 million. Byrum said this price tag is too high for the state at this time, while George countered that the cost could be recouped within one year by having the state legislature meet part time.

The Impact 2010 panelists in favor of a constitutional convention saw it as a way to cut the size of Michigan’s state government. Shrinking the size of the state legislature, eliminating one of the houses or making the Senate and House meet part time would save the state money, the officials explained.

“The problems stem from the size and inefficiencies of government,” George said.

The two panelists opposed to the proposal said rewriting the constitution is too risky, adding that there hasn’t been enough preparation to ensure fairness in the election process.

Robert LaBrant, senior vice president of political affairs and general counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said previous constitutional conventions lacked preparation and that voters are not ready to decide on a convention this year.

“I think this is premature to ask voters of the state of Michigan to vote for a ConCon when there has been no effort to prepare,” LaBrant said.

One of the debate’s contentious issues was whether a constitutional convention would hurt the state’s economy. Byrum said a convention would “hit the pause button on Michigan economically” because businesses would be less likely to invest in the state if the future tax codes and other rules are unclear.

“We are going to fall behind economically,” she said. “Other states in the region are going to get those investments.”

But George said the current structure of the government already dissuades outside investment, and a constitutional revision is needed to draw businesses to Michigan.

“It’s not hitting the pause button; it’s hitting the move-forward button,” he said.

Those against a new constitutional convention argued that special interest groups would have too much control over the convention because only motivated voters would go to the polls at the primary election in February.

John Logie, former mayor of Grand Rapids who is in favor of Proposal 1, said the quick turnaround between the November and February elections wouldn’t allow enough time for outside special interest groups to mobilize a large campaign.

“This is going to be a very grassroots-oriented thing,” Logie said.

He added that the constitutional convention would be “too big” to allow special interests to take over.

“You don’t have anything to be afraid of if you put 148 people together for the single task of forming a new constitution,” he said. “There will be some crazies, but they will be overruled.”

According to a Detroit News poll released in August, 46 percent of polled voters were in favor of Proposal 1, 32 percent were against it and 22 percent were undecided.

According to LeBrant, both Michigan gubernatorial candidates Virg Bernero and Rick Snyder are opposed to a constitutional convention. He also said former Michigan governors Jim Blanchard, a Democrat, and John Engler, a Republican, have spoken out against calling a convention.

LeBrant said a constitutional convention would be a three-year process that would not accomplish any results, adding that it’s not the Michigan Constitution that is “holding this state back.”

George was optimistic about the possibilities a constitutional convention would offer the state.

“It’s time for Michiganders to look at the big picture and look at this as an opportunity,” he said. “I trust, and we should trust, the citizens of Michigan to do the right thing.”

But Byrum said the process would be too expensive, too politically divisive and too risky for the state at this time.

“At the end of the day, I maintain it will go down in flames,” she said.

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