Constitutional revision is overdue
You’ve got to hand it to Rep. Joseph Cervantes, Las Cruces Democrat. He pursues lonely quests, an admirable trait so long as he doesn’t go too far along the fantasy paths of Don Quixote, the protagonist of the first modern novel, written by a namesake, Miguel de Cervantes.
But read Don Quixote (and I have). You will find that the good Don’s efforts, some addled, some not, pursued truth, justice and the American way, as Superman might put it.
So it is truth, justice and a new New Mexican way with Joseph Cervantes’ continued pursuit of a commission to propose revisions of New Mexico’s Constitution. As of this writing, Cervantes’ House Bill 207 has unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee with a minor amendment. It went to the Appropriations and Finance Committee, probably because the bill seeks $100,000 to run the 17-member commission for its two-year life.
The lead time for this column means HB 207 may have moved on by the time you read this. See: www.nmlegis.gov/lcs/_locatorcom.aspx?year=11 and scroll down until you find HB 207.
The bill says, “The constitutional revision commission shall examine the constitution of New Mexico and the constitutions of other states to recommend changes in the constitution of New Mexico as it deems desirable and necessary. Upon majority approval of the fifteen voting members, legislation shall be drafted and submitted to the legislature for its review in accordance with the provisions of Article 19, Section 1 of the constitution of New Mexico.”
This task statement is the same as Cervantes proposed in 2009 for the first revision commission bill.
Why bother? To start, the Constitution just passed its hundredth birthday. Things change. By my computer’s count it has more than 35,000 words. Age and length mean the Constitution contains all of the provisions that might have been a good idea 50 or 75 years ago.
Here are some examples: The Constitution mentions geothermal energy. School districts can do a lease-purchase deal for “education technology equipment.” The fifth Legislature is referenced. That was 90 years ago. The conditions for municipal home rule are specified. The rules for becoming an “urban county” are outlined in 670 words. Eleven “state educational institutions” are given constitutional legitimacy, each with a specified board of regents. (This makes it hard to turn the “educational institutions” into a single unit, which is what should be done.) The use “of sacramental wines … shall never be prohibited.”
Some sections have been amended multiple times, a thoroughly wasteful process. A few others, the unamendables, essentially can’t be amended because of the substantial majorities required through the amendment process. Sen. Michael Sanchez found out about this a few years ago when he proposed changing school board election dates. Nearly everyone approved, but not quite enough.
Nay sayers about large-scale constitutional revision include some of the smartest and wisest Republicans. Skeptics say such an effort would unite entrenched interests, all of them oh so special, across the ideological and geographical spectra.
They are right. But impossible dreams did not sway the Don. The state is a mess, and Democrats’ refusal to admit it had something to do with Democratic losses last year.
What is very much not the same as 2009 is the political environment. Rep. Cervantes might not be the ideal leader of any major initiative this year because of his abortive pre-session semi-candidacy for Speaker of the House. Speaker Ben Lujan is powerful, human, and probably still annoyed at Cervantes.
On the other hand, Susana Martinez from Las Cruces, as is Cervantes, is governor now. I’m told that the two have a good relationship.
Now opportunity knocks. Revising the Constitution might bring bold change.
© New Mexico News Services 2011