Have Iowans liked state constitutional conventions? Opponents of the Nov. 3 referendum would like you to think conventions are as obsolete and unpopular as the flintlock blunderbuss.

But Iowans have arguably called six state constitutional conventions: three unambiguously in 1844, 1856, and 1920; and three ambiguously in 1846, 1900, and 1933 — depending on how terms such as “Iowans,” “legitimate recount,” and “state constitutional convention” are defined. But convention opponents and press accounts routinely present facts suggesting that conventions were only popular in Iowa’s primordial past.

The unstated implication of these historical “facts” is that we needn’t bother having a contemporary discussion about the merits of calling a state constitutional convention because past generations of Iowans have already had that discussion and decided against one. This has become a dog whistle — echoed in the press — to the uninformed.

Today, Iowan advocates for state constitutional conventions are so discouraged they don’t even try. It’s like potential advocates for democracy in Russia, Turkey and Venezuela, who are constantly reminded by those in power that any effort at meaningful democratic reform is doomed to failure, so don’t even try.

Iowa’s framers gave the people the decennial state constitutional convention referendum to serve as a legislative bypass mechanism. Ever since, incumbent legislators and the special interests who excel at influencing them have opposed the convention process. It’s time for Iowa to discuss the merits of a convention and stop the dog whistling.

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