here for PDF format
of Meeting with Jack Davies
8301 Creekside Circle
#920, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, April 28, 2006
Court of Appeals and former State Senator
Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Jim Olson (by phone), and Clarence
Introduction of Davies--Verne
introduced Davies. He graduated from U of M
law school in 1960 while a member of State Senate from south
Davies taught at William Mitchell for 25 years and served in Senate for 24
years, including 10 years as Judiciary Committee chair, and 2 years as
Senate President. He was appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals by
Gov. Perpich in 1990 and served until his retirement in 2000. Davies was
appointed to the Constitutional Study Commission in 1971 and prepared the
document cleaning out the obsolete provisions and cleaning up awkward
language in the constitution, which was approved by the House and Senate
and the electorate.
said Davies was invited to meet with us today to discuss proposed
amendments to the state constitution to provide constitutional guarantees
on revenue for transportation and natural resources and the arts.
Davies' comments and during the discussion the following points were made:
should take time to read the state constitution, he said. It reads
smoothly and easily and functions as a broad charter for the state. For
example, the word "may" appears frequently in outlining what the
Legislature can do. It allows the Legislature to do what it wants to do.
Danger in making the constitution a vehicle for legislation--Davies
believes the proposed amendments would damage the constitution and the
Legislature. The constitution is not just another alternative for
passing legislation, which is what is happening with the proposed
amendments. Everything in those amendments could be accomplished by state
law. By using the constitution, you damage the Legislature as an
institution, because you deprive it of its responsibility for passing
the state constitution provides--The
constitution provides the framework for government in the state in
detail. It protects fundamental rights. It protects against fiscal
temptations. It protects local government. It contains a few mandates on
functions for highways and education but those mandates don't tie the
hands of the Legislature as the proposed amendments would do.
problem of long-term impact--What
fits legislative intent today might be dramatically different in another
few years. The Legislature could pass the amendments now but in a few
years find that it has tied its own hands with the amendments. The
Legislature can change a law every time it meets to account for changing
conditions. A constitutional amendment remains in effect unless another
amendment is passed to change it, which is very difficult to do.
Amendments are being proposed because the Governor opposes tax increases--The
constitutional amendment direction is being taken because the Governor
won't allow any increases in taxes. A constitutional amendment can be
submitted to the voters directly by the Legislature, without going through
the Governor. By contrast, a state law requires the Governor's approval.
Legislature at fault, too--In
response to a question, Davies said some legislators should share the
criticism, too. He disagreed that criticism should be addressed to the
entire Legislature. He said fault lies with Republicans who oppose tax
increases and whose religious views seem to guide their actions. Davies
recalled a time in the past when the DFL and Republican parties competed
with one another and both parties got better, reflecting the quality of
the other party.
Existing transportation dedication not a problem--
Davies was asked about whether a precedent already has been established in
the constitution because of existing provisions that dedicate revenue from
the state gasoline tax and the tax on licenses for motor vehicles to
transportation. Davies said the existing provision is not a precedent.
That provision was written very carefully to preserve as much legislative
authority as would be needed. The proposed amendments are much more
rigid, he said.
clarified his position that he is opposed to both the transportation
amendment and the natural resource amendment. Ideally, he said, all
revenue-related provisions would be kept out of the constitution. He said
what is needed to defeat the amendment is for some enlightened
transportation proponents and sportsmen to come forward and say that it is
not worth taking a victory on revenue dedication as a price for damaging
Comparative silence from other advocates--It
was noted that education and health and welfare advocates have been
surprisingly silent during the discussions on dedication of sales tax
revenue. Such advocates would seem to miss the point that their own
sources of revenue are being threatened by the amendments. Davies said he
doesn't think they want to ruffle feathers of legislators. But he agreed
that in coming sessions the legislators will be faced with similar
amendments for other functions and that with a precedent set, the
Legislature would have a tough time turning down those amendments.
"practical" reason to support an amendment--Reference
was made back to comments by Bill Blazar of the Minnesota Chamber of
Commerce. Blazar said the chamber was forced to accept the transportation
amendment because transportation is so starved for funds and was unable to
get a tax increase out of the Legislature. Davies pointed out that the
Legislature passed a gas tax increase only to have it vetoed.
way to diminish interest in the amendments--Clarence
suggested that one way to diminish interest in the amendments would be for
the Legislature to propose language that would not allow the functions of
transportation or natural resources to receive funds other than whatever
is dedicated by the amendments.
Summing up his thoughts--Toward
the end of the discussion Davies summed up his thoughts. The constitution
has functioned well over the decades and ought not be merely a tool for
responding to whatever happens to be the current political impasse in the
Legislature. Moreover, he said, the problem would not be present were it
not for a substantial number of legislators adopting inflexible positions
based on ideology.
Changes in the media--Davies
said that the greatest problem in communicating political developments is
the ability of people to read only those views that support their own, via
blogs on the internet or other ways. Looking back 40 years he recalled
the presence of responsible news media that had a community-wide
audience.. Today, not only do you have some media outlets that just
support certain views. You also have people with similar views living in
the same locations and only talking with people who have the same view
Need for a study on legislative procedures--Davies
said a critical need is for an outside group like the Citizens League to
do a study of legislative procedures.
Comment by Civic Caucus members--Jim
H. said the central message he received is that we shouldn't change the
constitution to meet the day-to-day problems of the Legislature. Clarence
said that the constitutional argument probably doesn't concern a lot of
people. Other arguments will be needed to defeat the amendments.
Positions on other issues--During
the meeting Davies made mention of a few other concerns:
Delete the 'legislative day' definition--Currently,
he said, the constitution limits the Legislature to a total of 120
legislative days during the first four-and-a-half months of each calendar
year. Consequently, the Legislature doesn't assemble as a body during
those months as much as it could, for fear of losing days. He would
continue to limit the Legislature's meeting time to the first four and a
half months of each calendar year. But he'd let the Legislature meet in
floor session as often as it wants during those months.
Opposition to term limits--He
said term limits for legislators has been a disaster in other states. A
good legislator gets better with time.
Opposition to initiative and referendum--He's
opposed to placing initiative and referendum in the constitution.
much need to change existing election laws--Davies
sees little need to make changes in the precinct caucus system, dates of
primaries or other changes in election laws. He said he's an optimist and
expects that current problems with legislators taking ideological
positions will gradually fade in importance.
expressed thanks to Davies for meeting with us today.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.