In a recent opinion piece (Express, March 29, 2021) Elizabeth Stelle urges support of two proposed constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot in the May 2021 primary election.
She devotes just one sentence in that piece to the content of those amendments. Had she described them in detail she — and we — would have realized that none of the benefits she claims for them are actually guaranteed by the wording of the amendments.
If we vote for people who turn out to be a poor choice, we can eventually get rid of them. But once we have amended our Constitution it is no easy matter to correct a mistake.
I therefore implore you to read these amendments carefully for yourselves and not rely simply on what Ms. Stelle — or I — say about them. Find them at dos.pa.gov, Voting and Elections as Joint Resolution 2021-1.
One amendment would limit the emergency powers of the governor to declaring and describing an emergency which cannot last more than 21 days.
Once declared, both houses of the General Assembly would pass legislation to determine how the emergency is to be managed. The governor may not declare a second emergency on the same or similar grounds without the concurrence of both houses.
The other amendment would give the legislature, by a concurrent resolution of both houses, the ability to declare the termination of emergency powers without the approval of the governor.
If the first amendment were enacted this one, of course, becomes redundant, because the governor has already been stripped of his emergency power to extend an emergency.
It is claimed that this restores the balance of power between the Executive and the Legislative branches of our government.
In fact, the effect is to tilt the balance in exactly the opposite direction in the apparent belief that 253 heads are better at managing a crisis than one.
To see how foolish and dangerous that assumption is we need only consider the attitude of our own state representative to the current crisis. Scornful of the need to wear a mask, she published a photograph of herself in a restaurant defying the governor’s closure order and loudly opposes the idea of a vaccination passport.
“Always choose freedom and liberty,” she clamors, apparently not aware that freedom and liberty are actually the same thing. It would take the vote of only another 126 similarly empty heads to end the COVID crisis in the Commonwealth, no matter what the evidence might be to the contrary.
Imagine the Commonwealth as the ship of state. The governor, at the helm, sees rocks ahead and turns the wheel rapidly to respond.
The ship lurches, passengers and crew are flung about and baggage is broken or lost. Responding the the passengers’ complaints, the crew mutiny and demand to take control of the ship. The governor stands at the masthead shouting “rocks ahead.” The crew rush around holding meetings with the passengers and amongst themselves, try to formulate a navigation plan and organize a vote. Meanwhile the governor sees the rocks getting ever closer and is powerless to avert disaster.
Before we tinker with the constitution in a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic restrictions, it is worth bearing in mind that the COVID virus has never read the constitution and does not care about the economics of small business. It spreads by contact. The way to limit the spread is to limit the contact.
The sooner the spread is contained, the sooner the limitations can be eased. It’s a simple logic, not a power grab. Beware of those who would convince you otherwise for their own political advantage.