The Iowa State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse
This website provides news, pro & con, historical, and other information related to Iowa's constitutionally mandated November 3, 2020 referendum on whether to call a state constitutional convention.
In July 2020, a group of former presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s supporters launched a website, IowaConCon2020.com, to support calling a state constitutional convention.
It argued that Iowa needed democratic reform:
American democracy is in crisis. A system locked in gridlock cannot govern, let alone make meaningful reform. The influence of money in politics continues to erode our trust and make politicians more accountable to special interests than to the public good. We want Iowa to lead the charge in refreshing and strengthening 21st century American democracy.
And it argued that Iowa’s Legislature wouldn’t pass those reforms itself:
Getting politicians to make substantive reforms that would threaten their power or reelection prospects is near impossible. Legislators are often unable or unwilling to make necessary changes to the system.
It thus proposed passing an initiative:
Twenty-six states have a Voter Initiative Referendum process which empowers voters to propose new laws and pass them directly through a popular vote at the ballot box. This people-powered process allows for quick adoption of reforms that legislators would otherwise be unable or unwilling to address. Voter Initiative Referendums have been responsible for many critical electoral reforms in the last decade:
Anti-gerrymandering reforms in Michigan, Missouri, and Colorado
The adoption of Ranked Choice Voting in Maine
Ex-Felon voting rights in Florida
And since the Legislative would never on its own pass an amendment making the initiative possible, this would have to be done via an Iowa state constitutional convention:
We would need to amend the State Constitution to make a Voter Initiative Referendum process possible.
Bravo! Voters have an opportunity to call such a state constitutional convention this fall:
Every 10 years, Iowa voters automatically have the opportunity to initiate a Constitutional Convention—a gathering of elected delegates who propose revisions and amendments to a state constitution. The measure will next appear on the Iowa ballot this year: Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
If approved by more than half of Iowa voters, a special election would be held to select delegates (separate from the state legislature) for the convention. These delegates would introduce and vote to propose amendments to the state constitution. Once proposed by the convention, the amendments would go to the people of Iowa for a final vote of approval.
This is our opportunity to make Voter Initiative Referendums a reality in Iowa.
Passing a modernized citizens’ initiative is indeed an appropriate use of a state constitutional convention. Moreover, if Iowa is like every other state, a majority of citizens would support some type of citizens’ initiative.
Alas, after the group assessed the difficulty of mobilizing the public on the convention question, they abandoned the effort. After all, Iowa’s political establishment liked the status quo and view both holding a convention and passing an initiative as attempts to bypass them and thus a threat to their power. Moreover, the opposition had nearly unlimited monetary and organizational resources, as well as a track record of spending and doing whatever it takes to defeat a convention referendum. And if Iowa’s experience in 1920 was any guide, they would even back efforts to prevent a convention from convening that had been called under Iowa’s Constitution.
So yeah, Iowa’s Framers might have been right that a convention may be the only practical way to propose popular democratic reforms such as the initiative that the Legislature would never propose on its own. But without political elites on your side, it was just too hard to mobilize the public on this issue in Iowa.
As for the opposition, it only comes out of the woodwork when polls indicate the convention referendum has a realistic chance of passing–something it has had no worries about for many decades in Iowa. To do otherwise would be a waste of its money. Thus, the existence of advocates for a convention drives the existence of advocates against a convention, so when the former doesn’t exist, neither does the latter. Hence, too, no expenditures either for or against filed with Iowa state government.
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