Democratic challenger Braun pushes for "democracy amendment"

BY IAN STEWART | JULY 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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There are few 2012 presidential candidates who are pledging to strip power from the very office they hope to hold. But Democratic challenger Harry Braun said the president and the Congress should be "servants" of the people.

Braun, who spent last several days campaigning in Iowa City, said the heart of his re-envisioning of the American political system is a "Democracy Amendment" to the Constitution.

It reads: "We the People hereby empower the majority of American citizens to approve all federal legislation, executive orders, and judicial decisions that affect the majority of citizens."

Article Five of the Constitution delineates the process for constitutional amendments. They can be proposed by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Congress or by Constitutional Convention called for by two-thirds of state legislatures. Ratification requires either ratification by state conventions or by state legislatures.

Braun said passage of the amendment is the key to eliminating "the army" of lobbyists in Washington, D.C., which, he contends, has established "a government of bribery."

"That 26-word amendment would take away the power from the lobbyists and congressmen and give it to the people," Braun said, explaining that he imagines the American people using their newfound power to pass legislation outlawing lobbying.

But University of Iowa Associate Professor of political science Cary Covington said the plan runs the risk of contradicting the Constitution's First Amendment, which guarantees citizens' right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances."

"You cannot distinguish between lobbying and petitioning your government," Covington said. "He's going against the very grain of the founders."

Braun found anti-lobbying sympathy — though not unconditional support for his tactics — in Dave Helman, the chairman of the Henry County Democrats.

"I couldn't agree more with his [stance] on the power of lobbyists," Helman said but he noted that he has misgivings about Braun's "Democracy Amendment."

"I don't see in America large numbers of citizens as being civic-minded, being attentive to public policy," Helman said.

Braun often compares his plan with Switzerland's political system in which the public, usually after collecting 50,000 signatures, is able to initiate referendums that are voted on several times annually.

While Braun said voter turnout is not as important to him as how much thought those who do vote put into their decision, Covington said passing laws by majority vote would be putting a strain on Americans.

"He's calling for the American people to take on an onerous burden," Covington said.

Though Helman said he doubted some aspects of Braun's platform, he called the candidate's energy platform "fascinating in its potential."

Braun, a retired scientist and energy consultant, has been a strong advocate of a distinctive plan for a transition to a "solar hydrogen economy" that would be spurred on by popular passage of a Fair Accounting Act. By adding environmental and health costs to the price of nonrenewable fuels, the legislation would force companies to pursue cleaner technologies.

"I've agreed at our caucuses to introduce a resolution on the aggressive action needed to move ahead on the solar hydrogen economy and altering the power and influence of special lobbyists," Helman said.

It's the Democracy Amendment, however, that Braun said he sees as critical to all reform, and he said he's looking forward to drumming up support for the document in Iowa and the rest of the country ahead of the February caucuses.

"Regardless of my presidential campaigning, we can get the Iowa caucuses to pass this resolution," Braun said.

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