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Ruth: Constitution Revision Commission ignores the public

By Daniel Ruth

You could be forgiven if you thought the Florida Constitution Revision Commission was going to result in a wave of grass-roots populism that would make Bernie Sanders look like an elitist Wall Street snob.

After all, the 37-member commission traveled across the state holding public hearings under a huge banner that read: "Floridians Speak We Listen."

With fingers crossed, perhaps?

That is the problem, isn’t it? Once you start asking the great unwashed what they think, you run the risk members of the public will actually tell you what they think. This charade of pretending you care about public opinion can get awkward.

You could say the CRC’s books were going to be cooked from the beginning. After all, the commission includes Attorney General Pam Bondi and members appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and three others by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.

This was not exactly shaping up as an Age of Enlightenment exercise, especially after a Scott ally, real estate developer and failed U.S. Senate Republican candidate Carlos Beruff, was named to chair the commission.

The CRC meets every 20 years to revise the state’s guiding legal document. The last time it gathered hardly anyone had heard of Google, and cellphones were at best rudimentary. So you would think the commission would have its work cut out for it to drag the state into the 21st century, since it seems perpetually stuck in the 18th.

After holding its hearings and beckoning the citizenry to offer up its ideas, the CRC announced a few days ago that of the 2,012 public submissions, only six proposals made the cut, or about 0.3 percent of the total citizen input.

Some of the ideas advanced included measures providing Floridians a clean environment, closing a loophole in the homestead exemption that allows felons to hide property assets, a right to privacy provision and another privacy proposal to block certain access to public information.

To be fair, many of the proposals submitted by the public were redundant, or already in the Constitution, or simply stupid.

For example, Floridians already have a right to own firearms — lots of them. And while Florida may not be one of the more progressive states in the union, it is already illegal to try to bribe an elected official. Getting caught is another matter.

The U.S. Supreme Court might look askance at one proposal that any "valid" method of execution should be allowed. Ahem, there are probably parts of Florida where being eaten by wolves would seem perfectly "valid."

Several citizen proposals called for protecting the right to hunt and fish, as if these activities are being threatened. One Floridian called for NASCAR being declared the official state sport. It wasn’t already?

Another civic-minded resident wanted to include a provision in the Constitution of the great state of Florida for a la carte cable television selections. Now there was a free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last moment for you.

There were some more worthy constitutional amendment suggestions that withered on the vine, like limiting the amount of money corrupting our political system. Good luck persuading Florida’s greased-palmed politicians to say, "No more checks please!"

And the chances were practically nil the CRC would approve a proposed amendment to create a state commission on sea level rise, especially in a state led by a governor who dismisses climate change as a fad.

How about the failed suggestion to have an elected Public Service Commission? Ah, idealistic citizens with a sense of humor.

Still the CRC might want to revisit its rejection of two ideas. One called for the elimination of the office of the lieutenant governor, otherwise known as the state’s official potted plant. Really, now in case you’ve forgotten, we do have a lieutenant governor — Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who has been seen in public less often than J.D. Salinger.

But here’s an idea worthy of reconsideration. This rejected constitutional provision would require the words "None of the Above" to appear for every race on every ballot. If "None of the Above" wins, a new election would be held with none of the losing candidates allowed to run again.

Those citizens can be downright mischievous sometimes.