A constitution is the document that spells out the fundamental principles and basic framework of a state or national government.
It is not a tool for settling political scores.
When Nebraskans decide whether to amend the State Constitution, the decision should be made soberly and thoughtfully, focused on one overarching principle:
Is the proposal sound long-term policy?
That was the general approach taken by our nation's founders more than two centuries ago when they drew up the U.S. Constitution. James Madison, the “father of the Constitution,” and the others drafted proposals based on what they thought would best serve the long-term public interest — not on the basis of personal or political disputes.
Crafting the supreme law of a state is too important to be handled otherwise.
Which brings us to some of Gov. Dave Heineman's comments this week.
Last spring, the Legislature voted to override the governor's veto of a bill to provide prenatal care for illegal immigrants. A super-majority of state senators disagreed with the governor. The veto was overridden 30-16, and the bill became law.
Now, Heineman says, Nebraskans should respond by rejecting Proposed Amendment 4, which would give all members of the Legislature a pay raise.
Regardless of one's position on prenatal care for illegal immigrants, this is no way to treat the Nebraska Constitution.
Decisions to amend the state's primary governing document — setting down a new policy that will last for decades — should not be made based on lawmakers' votes on a single bill or a governor's pique at losing a vote.
If the governor and other opponents of the prenatal care law believe it is bad policy — we supported the bill because those babies are Nebraska citizens at birth — then the Legislature convenes on Jan. 9, 2013, and the question can be debated again.
If the governor or other Nebraskans want to argue against Amendment 4, they should do so based on the merits of the pay raise issue.
We have urged passage of the amendment for several solid reasons. It has been 24 years since lawmakers' salaries last were raised. This increase, from the current $12,000 to $22,500, isn't wild-eyed; it's based on an adjustment for 24 years of inflation. And by making serving at the State Capitol a little bit more affordable, more Nebraskans might be able to step forward and serve in the Legislature.
Not all Nebraskans see the issue that way, of course. But let's argue about Amendment 4 based on whether the lawmaker pay raise is good long-term policy — not because 30 senators disagreed with the governor on one vote on one unrelated issue.