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Amendment No. 3 fails to safeguard public interest

A Times Editorial
Published October 17, 2006

Schoolchildren are taught that the Constitution is a blueprint for government, which is why controls on net fishing and smoking make an odd fit for Florida's version. But the problem with the proposed fix, Amendment 3 on the Nov. 7 ballot, is that it speaks less to constitutional purity than it does to a big business agenda.

One piece of evidence is the inherent contradiction presented by the question itself. Voters are being asked to vote for an amendment that would require future amendments to the Florida Constitution receive at least 60 percent of the vote to be enacted. Yet Amendment 3 requires only a simple majority to pass. How intellectually consistent is that?

The other evidence is the money. Protect Our Constitution Inc. has raised $2.2-million as of the last reporting period, almost all of it from home builders, developers, real estate groups and agribusiness. Their goal is to thwart an upcoming initiative called Hometown Democracy, which would give citizens more direct control over development.

In theory, Amendment 3 has some merit. The constitutional initiative too often has become a tool for monied interests - lawyers, doctors, gambling companies - to take their fights directly to the ballot. In Florida, those with large checkbooks can simply pay companies to gather the necessary petitions. For example, Lakeland businessman C.C. "Doc" Dockery spent $1.5-million in 2000 to put his own high-speed rail plan before voters.

In practice, Amendment 3 is, at best, an incomplete solution. It would make future amendments tougher to pass without providing an alternative. One reason that voters continue to approve amendments - from a higher minimum wage to an indoor smoking ban to smaller class sizes - is that their elected representatives won't listen. This amendment is a perfect example. Though other states allow citizens to petition for new laws as an alternative to constitutional initiatives, legislators have refused to consider that option. They just want to make it harder for citizens to overrule their Legislature. What else is new?

The civics class teaches that political insolence is resolved in a representative democracy by voting incumbents out of office. But in the real world, lawmakers seek re-election from safe gerrymandered districts with enough campaign cash to scare off most opponents. That means citizens need some relief valve, some way to be heard when lobbyists rule the Capitol. The constitutional initiative is not the best method, but this amendment provides no others.

The money behind Amendment 3 will be used for a full-scale media campaign to persuade voters to push the "yes" button. But don't think for a minute that the National Association of Home Builders, which gave $300,000 to the cause, is actually looking to protect the Constitution. Its aim is to protect the financial bottom line. The Times recommends that voters reject Amendment 3 and demand that lawmakers go back to the drawing board.

[Last modified October 17, 2006, 02:38:28]

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