Home Commentary Op-ed HOW A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION COULD SUCCEED

HOW A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION COULD SUCCEED

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Some Virgin Islands voters applaud the suggestion by the governor and at least one senator for another constitutional convention. Having personally lived through practically all of them so far, and having heard the old "saw" about failure due to the lack of knowledge on the part of the electorate and the necessity for educating that electorate, I really have to wonder if a repeat constitutional convention will change anything — or end in yet another expensive failure.
The problem was not the lack of the electorate's knowledge, but the built-in coffer-dams around "sacred cows" and political "royalty." What failed in the past will fail in the future. Changes in procedures and representation must be introduced to effect success.
Perhaps if the representation is a reflection of the general populace, without legislative and executive over-representation, then there might — repeat, might — be a chance. Even at that, no government will automatically, voluntarily change itself. We have evidence of that with previous referendums about legislative size and other voter initiatives. The government itself must not be over-represented in a constitutional convention.
In addition, the procedure must reflect the differences of life, labor and conditions of the two distinct political districts. Representation alone will not produce a constitution suitable for all Virgin Islanders. Might is not always right.
A constitution can result only if each district holds its own primary constitutional convention, reflecting the opinions of the district itself. After the district conventions develop constitutions reflecting constituent concerns, then representatives to a territorial constitution convention should be selected, perhaps by the representatives to the district conventions, perhaps by the district voters themselves.
Then the territorial constitutional convention should be convened to hammer out differences and discrepancies between the two proposed primary constitutions. Meetings of districts representatives to the territorial conference could alternate between the two districts. After agreement is reached on a compromise document, it should be presented to the general electorate for discussion.
A series of town halls to discuss the compromise document in the two districts should follow. Subsequently, changes deemed necessary should be considered by the territorial convention members, and a final document should be presented to the electorate at a special election, not a general election.
In this manner, it appears that a constitution might be ratified: If the district membership is representative of the populace; if separate primary district conventions are held, with a subsequent territorial convention hammering out differences; if the populace has a final "swing" at a draft territorial constitution; if a final compromise convention is held; and if voting takes place in a special election.
This might create a climate for a constitution which will serve the needs and meet the approval of most Virgin Islanders.
Repeating the past has proved what does not work. There is great dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs in the Virgin Islands, including relations with the United States and, even more importantly, relations between the two districts. These are problems which a properly developed territorial constitution could help alleviate.

Editor's note: Dr. Robert V. Vaughn, Ed. D., a 38-year resident of St. Croix, is a former librarian/teacher at St. Dunstan's School, Good Hope School and the then-College of the Virgin Islands. He was born in Ohio in 1924 and was a pilot in World War II. He served as secretary of the V.I. Emancipation 150 Commission.
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