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Use constitutional amendment process only when necessary

The Minnesota Legislature is playing a dangerous game with proposals for state constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2012. If Minnesotans are not careful we will be running down the same road with California and its endless supply of propositions and state plebiscites. With all these votes, who needs representative government? Let us become a pure democracy, put everything to the popular vote and then see what happens.

The Minnesota Constitution should not be used for political games. It should be amended only for compelling reasons that benefit the entire state, not just to further one party's political agenda.

We felt that way when we opposed the current Legacy Amendment that passed in 2008 by the DFL Legislature. We oppose the current Republican pushes for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages along with a constitutional amendment to require voter photo identification. The amendments are not priorities.

Amendments to the state Constitution should be a last resort, not the first option.

Star Tribune columnist Lori Sturdevant may have stated it best last Sunday. ... statutes and rulings are whiteboards that can be erased. Constitutions are granite.

First of all, we happen to agree with the Republicans' intent. Gay marriage should not be on equal status with traditional marriage. We can live with statutes for same-sex arrangements to protect their legal rights, but we do not support stepping over that line.

We already have a same-sex marriage ban on the books. Republicans argue that activist judges have overturned state statutes on same-sex marriages in other states, and only a state constitutional amendment can stop such rulings.

While that may be true, there needs to be a lot more debate before the voters of this state go to the polls to make informed, not emotional, decisions. Let us do the debate first and see if the public actually wants that constitutional vote etched into granite.

Second, we agree that identification at the voting booths is necessary, but a constitutional amendment is not the answer. Tighten registration laws and requirements if we must, but let us first determine if there really is a problem. We do not often agree with Gov. Mark Dayton, but he has a point. Is this a solution in search of a problem?

With Minnesota's generally squeaky clean voting record, we have our doubts any adjustments are needed at all. We do a darn good job right now in conducting elections. Leave it alone.

No doubt Republicans are working on the political agenda that brought them into control of both houses of the state Legislature. We commend them for that. But we also caution them that being in the majority requires additional diligence in law making. It requires them all to ask: Is this good public policy or just political haymaking?

Minnesotans demand good policy. Anything less is not acceptable.

Just because the majority Republicans can do what they want now, does not mean they should?

Find solutions in tougher state statutes and laws first, and only rely on constitutional amendments when all else fails.

State legislators have bigger fish to fry this session. They need to address the budget deficit first.

Prior to passing the Legacy Amendment there were dire warnings that those funds earmarked for the outdoors and arts may be needed to help balance the state's budget deficit down the road.

That prediction has come to fruition. The state is $5 billion short over the next biennium, and the hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned off by the Legacy Amendment are no longer part of the equation.

While the constitutional amendment for the outdoors and arts was popular with voters, right now those badly needed dollars are not there. Other parts of the budget will have to make up the difference.

So instead of zeroing in on bedroom issues and photo IDs, legislators need to get at the real problem - the budget shortfall.

You are running out of time.

- R.G.