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Bernie Erickson, Published February 06 2012

Flavor-of-the-month extremism no reason to amend constitution

About 30 years ago when my grandpa retired from the construction business, he gave me the hammer he’d used every day of his professional life. It was truly one of the best gifts he’d ever given me.

The following summer when I was installing new shingles on my house, the handle split and I had to get a new one. Then last year when I was repairing my fence after the wind storms, I forgot the hammer outside overnight. Between the rain and the dew the head became covered with rust. I had to replace it.

I sure do love my grandpa’s hammer.

Unfortunately it’s not really my grandpa’s hammer anymore, is it?

My grandpa wasn’t in the construction business and I don’t think he ever gave me a hammer. I made up that story as an example of what can happen to something you treasure when you make too many modifications. Even if you have what you think is a really good reason, some of those changes can be nearly impossible to un-do.

Voters in North Dakota and Minnesota will both have opportunities to modify their state’s constitutions for what some may think are good reasons. In North Dakota, we will vote on abolishing property taxes, and in Minnesota, there will be a vote regarding same-gender marriage.

Some think it’s a great idea to make it illegal for local citizens to collect and disburse funds to support their local infrastructures. That’s best left to bureaucrats hundred of miles away. Others think it’s wise to base laws solely on religious beliefs, especially when it comes to determining which couples are allowed to benefit from existing laws. There’s a long and rich world history of laws based on religion having great outcomes.

Regardless of where you stand on these issues, modifying constitutions in reaction to flavor-of-the-month extremist points of view is never the answer. Before you know it, our constitutions will be just like Grandpa’s hammer: a fond memory of something long gone, never to return.


Erickson lives in Fargo.