As we celebrate our country’s Declaration of Independence 245 years ago on July Fourth, it is helpful to recognize that true patriotism is part of a process of greater inclusiveness and protecting constitutional rights for all.
The declaration’s signatories were 56 white men — most slave owners, lawyers and wealthy. Though their brilliance and accomplishment are to be praised, the perspective of those of us left out helped bring greater realization to “We the People.”
For example, the horrific three-fifths compromise in the U.S. Constitution gave greater representation to slaveholding states in the Electoral College, marring the Constitution, with some very mindful of that. Pennsylvania’s Gouverneur Morris, who wrote the Constitution’s preamble, argued that the compromise made the Constitution fatally inconsistent with human rights. The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments finally responded by abolishing slavery, providing equal protection for all and guaranteeing the right to vote to men of color.
In her Declaration of Sentiments at the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote “that all men and women are created equal.” Only with the impassioned help of abolitionist Frederick Douglass was Stanton able to persuade a majority at the convention to support for women the “sacred right” to vote. Not until Aug. 18, 1920, and after Stanton’s death, did women finally win the right to vote with the 19th Amendment.
However, we still lack an Equal Rights Amendment. Idaho passed the ERA in 1972, only to rescind it five years later with the support of notables such as now U.S. Sen. Jim Risch. But last year on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, Virginia became the required 38th state to ratify the ERA. Constitutional scholars generally agree that states can’t lawfully rescind ratification, and several bills have been introduced before Congress to extend the 1982 deadline to adopt the ERA.
Much work remains. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld voter restrictions in Arizona. In Idaho, we have yet to realize the guarantee set forth in the Idaho Constitution of a “uniform and thorough” public education for all Idahoans. The $400 million tax cut approved by the Legislature this year came directly from funds that could have been spent on Idaho public education, funded dead last of any state. The tax provides $10,000 in annual tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% in Idaho and $50 to those at the bottom 20% in income. A $6 million federal grant for early childhood education secured by Idaho’s senators was refused by Republican legislators with every Democrat supporting the measure. And the citizen initiative process enshrined in the Idaho Constitution since 1912 was all but obliterated this year. We await the Idaho Supreme Court ruling on Reclaim Idaho’s effort to overturn that law.
As Idaho moves forward, and backward, on the Idaho Constitution’s preamble to “promote our common welfare,” it’s important to note that regression is at the expense of the futures of Idahoans. Idaho voters can express their patriotism by voting for candidates who support the hardscrabble to form “a more perfect union.”
Pat Tucker is the chair of the Bonneville County Democratic Party Central Committee.