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Thursday, October 23rd, 2013

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Election Day for the congressional and local elections is right around the corner. In fact, a Louisiana voter can absentee vote right now. The Secretary of State’s office predicts some 45 to 50 percent of registered voters will actually show up and vote. Having run that office for a number of years and predicting voter turnout through the 1980s, I predict closer to a 60 percent turnout. Current Secretary of State Tom Schedler and I have a lunch wager on whose prediction will be more accurate.

I was one of the first to vote by my home in Baton Rouge on the first day of absentee voting. And I can tell you the elections officials are strict on making everyone show a photo I.D. When I went in to vote, I was easily recognizable as the former Secretary of State, and the guy who spearheaded the building of the State Archives where the absentee voting takes place. I wrote the current election code that sets the rules for voting in Louisiana. So when it comes to the elections, no one is more recognizable I am. And most of these elections officials know well that I live just a few blocks from the voting precinct.

So after lots of visiting and refreshing of old friendships, I asked for an absentee ballot. The response was quick and to the point. “Sure Mr. Brown. But, of course, we’ll need to see a government issued photo I.D.” No exceptions here. And that’s how it should be. After all, I have to show a photo I.D. to cash a check at the bank, pick up a prescription at the drug store, get on an airplane, use a credit card for many purchases, give blood, get a passport, pick up a package at the post office, buy car insurance, buy a gun at a gun shop, do business at the social security office or the welfare office, sell  items at a pawn shop — I could go on. So what’s the big deal about pulling out a photo I.D. at the polls?

The easiest parts of my ballot choices were my picks on the 14 constitutional amendments. I pulled the “NO” lever on them all. Every one. There’s not a single issue on this year’s ballot that cries out for an immediate correction. I was a delegate to the 1973 constitutional convention that created our present governing document. It was too long at 92 pages, but still, it was a framework for governing that delegated legislative authority. But rather than updating or adjusting the laws on the books for current needs and required changes in yearly legislative sessions, lawmakers have found it politically expeditious to pass the buck to voters and offer them a menu of modifications.

Virtually every amendment proposed could be handled by our elected legislators. Let me give you an example of how out of whack some of these proposals are. Amendment No. 4 allows for the investing of state funds into a Louisiana Transportation Infrastructure Bank. But guess what? There is no such bank. If such a bank and the rules governing how it is to operate are ever needed ““ they can be created by a legislative statute. Why make voters decide about creating a financial entity they don’t understand? Why pass the buck?

I could write pages on the irrationality of most of the amendments being proposed. Voters in the state have already amended the constitution 175 times since 1984. If so many changes are needed, isn’t it time to have a new constitutional convention to update our current governing document? Calls for a convention are nothing new. When I ran for governor back in 1987, one of my main campaign planks was to call for a constitutional convention.

Isn’t it time to bring Louisiana into the 21st century? Instead of making voters decide on numerous parochial issues, a courageous legislature could authorize a review of all our laws and constitutional provisions. Voters are entitled to a bold thinking legislature that takes on more responsibility — not one that punts or runs away from tough issues. Isn’t that what public service is all about?

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

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