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Florida Representative Warns People Shouldn’t 'Play Games' With The State Constitution

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa
Phil Sears
Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa

A proposed new “citizens amendment” could be on the ballot for Florida voters in 2020. It would replace two words in the state constitution with one word. Instead of saying every citizen can vote, it would say only a citizen can vote.

The measure is picking up steam, even though it’s already illegal for noncitizens to vote. In fact, a group called Florida Citizens Voters has raised more than $4.6 million and says it has gathered more than double the amount of signatures that a petition needs to be included in next year's ballot. 

Republican Representative James Grant says Florida’s Constitution should operate like a constitution and that people shouldn't be playing political games with it. 

On the Florida Roundup, hosts Tom Hudson and Melissa Ross spoke with Representative Grant. He helped get legislation passed that makes it more difficult for these types of ballot amendments to go before the voters.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

HUDSON:  Does this particular initiative follow the spirit of your legislation?

GRANT: Well, I think the spirit of the legislation was to be issue-agnostic. I happen to believe that a constitution should behave like a constitution. I happen to believe that we should operate like a republic, irrespective of the issue being posed.

What I would say is, when I filed the legislation last year I was trying to protect and protect our constitution from dark money, from questions about who's funding, who's working, who's signing, who's collecting, and [it was also] an effort to let Floridians know that language as sacred as something going into our Florida Constitution shouldn't be an issue of out-of-state interest or dark money or questions of whether or not the petitions are validly signed and collected.

I frankly thought, naively in retrospect, that when I would file the legislation it would be a very bipartisan issue, in the sense that some of my progressive and liberal friends and colleagues would say, 'hey I don't want Charles Koch or one of the Koch brothers funding a constitutional amendment, something they are not going to be governed by,' and simultaneously you have conevrsatives that don't want George Soros or Tom Steyer. 

The spirit of the legislation was to look at the fact that the Constitution should operate like a constitution and that people shouldn't be playing political games with our constitution.

(...) What this [the process behind the so-called citizen's amendment] does show is that it validates the need for last year's legislation and even more. Because the fact that we are having a question about who's funding a change in our constitution on something so significant as voter's rights, the fact that we don't all know that -out in the open with complete transparency- is a massive problem. The fact that we don't know who collected those petitions, whether thet are Florida residents, what was being told. The fact that we don't know all that is the very reason for that legislation. 

ROSS: The perception around this that this isn't about ensuring only citizens vote, it's more about driving perhaps President Trump's supporters to the polls next year to make sure he takes Florida in 2020. What do you think?

GRANT: I’m incredibly troubled and discouraged by some of the rhetoric that we see assuming intentions or motives on all sides of our political discourse. I say that to say that the first and most troubling thing to me is what is happening to the Florida Constitution (...)

Will there be people who look at it and with a completely race-agnostic perspective say ‘Gee it makes sense to me that only citizens can vote’? They're not going to necessarily know that that's already the law. And I think that's what happens with these ballot amendments.

One of the things people need to understand is that you could legally get the repeal of the First Amendment onto the Florida election ballot. The Supreme Court does not review the language for anything with respect to constitutionality or legal infirmities or legal ambiguities. All they look at is, have you complied with the process and does the language say what you said it should say? I think we should take a posture that says people shouldn't be able to spend money to repeal the First Amendment because they don't like what the press is doing and they're going to try and gin turnout for a candidate and then let us spend two years litigating finding out that no, in fact the first amendment is sovereign. It can't be repealed.

Regardless what the voters thought, these ambiguous questions, that lead to all sorts of chaos in the political process are predicated by both parties who do it, around ‘how do I gin up excitement to turn people’ and for a completely unrelated question.  It really is abusing the process. 

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Denise Royal