"The Dead Hand of the Past" -- nice, theatrical phrase, isn't it? Imagine a graveyard at midnight, a skeletal hand reaching from a yawning grave, grasping you around the throat and dragging you down. No more carefree laughter, no more bright future.
You won't find the Colorado Constitution engraved in stone at Evergreen Cemetery, or anywhere else. It'd take an army of stonecutters years to inscribe every tendentious word of that obscure document. It's long. Imagine Karl Marx's Das Kapital without the sex scenes, in its original German, if you neither read nor understood German. It's as unlike the noble document that defines our nation's form of government, as, say, Tom DeLay is unlike Mother Teresa.
But its dead hand is omnipresent, whether we know it or not. Thanks to the Colorado Constitution, state government is both mandated to increase spending on education (Amendment 23) and forbidden to retain tax revenues necessary to comply with the mandate (TABOR).
The constitution requires that different kinds of property be taxed at sharply different rates (the Gallagher Amendment), and allocates revenue from casino gambling and state-run lotteries to predetermined uses (historic preservation, parks and open space).
There's a whole section on nuclear detonations. (Those of us who fear nuclear attack will be glad to know that the constitution forbids the explosion of any nuclear device in Colorado.)
Rather than embodying the wisdom of the ages, our constitution displays the written history of interest-group politics, the record of who had enough power to bull through a constitutional amendment at a particular time. The interest groups that built the constitution by adding self-dealing amendments simply walked away afterward, unconcerned about the general welfare.
Our constitution is best understood as a vast, rickety structure added onto over the decades by slumlord owners without building permits. It ought to be condemned, but the authorities are powerless to act -- and we're all tenants, paying through the nose for our squalid little rooms.
So how can we get a brand new constitution? It's simple. The general assembly may, by a two-thirds vote of each house, call for a constitutional convention. The delegates to such a convention are chosen by popular vote, with two delegates elected from each state Senate district. Upon election, the delegates meet, come up with a constitution and submit it to the people in a special election.
Leaving aside the obvious objection -- that you couldn't get a two-thirds majority of the assembly to agree that the sun rises in the east -- a con-con, if ever created, might be the best thing ever to happen to this state. Think about it. Even to an opponent of the war in Iraq, it's inspiring to see men and women from that unfortunate land try to craft words that might bring peace and the rule of law to their country.
Ask any Colorado pol about a con-con, and you'll get the same answer. It'd be a circus, a free-for-all of special interests, and whichever power pigs got their snouts pushed out of the trough would spend millions to defeat the new constitution. End result: a big fat zero.
I don't think so. Whom would we elect as delegates to such a convention? Not the whiners and ideologues who seem to dominate political discourse nowadays, but thoughtful, decent folks without axes to grind.
There'd be a few pols, of course, but I suspect we'd go for folks like Chuck Berry, Daphne Greenwood, Dick Lamm and Hank Brown -- people of extraordinary ability and probity, who'd be immune to special interest pleadings. And what kind of document would they come up with? Most likely one that we could support as citizens and that would make life better for generations of Coloradans.
Meanwhile, it's skanky politics as usual here in River City. The fate of School District 11 is in the balance, as Eric Christen and his board insurgents need one more fellow traveler elected to take over. Three seats are in play, and the insurgents hold the cards. Each camp has designated three candidates, so we should see some classic political maneuvers.
The Christen right (pun intended) needs only demonize the weakest establishment candidate, build up its strongest candidate and ... game over.
Wonder how long it'll take 'em to make intelligent design courses mandatory for all?