Although The Virginian-Pilot editorial board announced that they would be weighing in this ballot amendment, I chose not to include it in my predictions. (I also didn’t predict anything on the Virginia Beach light rail referendum. More on that in another post.) It has been clear, to anyone who reads the pages, that the board supports this amendment, and today’s endorsement is just reaffirms that.
Most expect the amendment will pass – and with an overwhelming margin. Support for it in the General Assembly was on a bipartisan basis, which makes the effort by some to make this a partisan issue quite ridiculous. The State Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia adopted a resolution (pdf) opposing it, putting it in direct opposition to many of its elected representatives. A rather dumb move, if you ask me.
That’s not to say that I support the amendment. Truth be told, after spending hours upon hours researching it and talking to people on both sides, I still haven’t made up my mind. My own hesitation stems not from the idea that property rights shouldn’t be protected, but that this mechanism – amending the constitution – is not the right vehicle.
Instinctively, I am against amendments to the Virginia constitution. Yes, ours looks more like a Christmas tree, with all the ornaments hanging on it, especially when compared to the original. It seems we have constitutional amendments on the ballot quite often; compare that to the U.S. Constitution, which has been amended only 27 times.
Amendments, proponents argue, are necessary to avoid the whims of the legislature.
Unlike the statute approved in 2007, a constitutional amendment cannot be changed by legislators one year and reversed the next. This amendment has been approved by the General Assembly in consecutive sessions, separated by an election, and it must be ratified by the people. Any change would have to follow the same process.
The process is designed to be difficult to achieve and difficult to overturn. Which is why serious consideration should be given before we enshrine something into it.
But there is one argument of proponents that gives me serious heartburn, and it was made in the same editorial:
The constitution outlines the commonwealth’s overarching principles and Virginians’ rights
Ah, but if that were only true.
Virginian’s amended the constitution in 2006 to take away rights.
The exact same arguments that were made in favor of the 2006 Marshall-Newman amendment are being made here.
To be fair – and this is why I remain undecided – many of those who were against the 2006 amendment are in favor of this one. But I also hear from proponents of both amendments – and they use the same words.
And it makes my stomach turn.
Property owners, particularly in the wake of the Kelo decision, deserve protection.
But so do I.