for president Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones ’79 and Mimi Chen ’79 work
to amend U.S. Constitution
Morgenthaler-Jones ’79, above with Arnold Schwarzenegger,
and Mimi Chen ’79 founded Amend for Arnold. (Courtesy
Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones ’79, Courtesy Mimi Chen ’79)
In 2002, Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones ’79 attended a fund-raiser
for Proposition 49, a California ballot measure aimed at securing
funds for after-school programs. The proposition, sponsored by actor
Arnold Schwarzenegger, was widely viewed as a test run for a future
gubernatorial candidacy. But Morgenthaler-Jones had low expectations
for the former bodybuilder.
“I went to the fund-raiser thinking that he was a muscle-bound
moron,” Morgenthaler- Jones recalled. “Then I saw him,
and I thought to myself, ‘This guy could go to the White House.’
The next year, Morgenthaler-Jones and her freshman-year Princeton
roommate, Mimi Chen ’79, volunteered for Schwarzenegger’s
gubernatorial campaign. Now the two classmates are heading a national
grassroots effort to amend the U.S. Constitution so that naturalized
immigrants — including the Austrian-born Republican —
could run for president.
The project, known as Amend for Arnold, has recruited 1,000 volunteers
in 50 states, drawn 20,000 donors, aired television ads in major
California markets, and inspired a burst of media attention across
the country. Through Amend for Arnold the women are trying to leverage
popular support to urge Congress to vote for a constitutional amendment.
Several proposed amendments have already been introduced in Congress,
but none has been acted upon.
After America won its independence from England, the framers of
the Constitution were understandably worried about undue foreign
influence. But more than two centuries later, Morgenthaler-Jones
and Chen figure, America has been transformed by successive waves
of immigration — changes that render the old prohibition illogical.
Morgenthaler-Jones and Chen hardly came to their cause as seasoned
political insiders. A former biotech fund manager, Morgenthaler-Jones,
of Menlo Park, Calif., was a political independent who only registered
as a Republican in 2000 so that she could cast a presidential-primary
vote for moderate Sen. John McCain. Chen, a former radio disc jockey
who now takes care of her children in Los Angeles, was a Democrat
who later joined the Green Party. Both women credit Schwarzenegger’s
distinctive blend of fiscal conservatism, social liberalism, and
personal charisma for inspiring them to action.
If both houses of Congress approve the amendment, it still would
need to be ratified by 38 state legislatures — a task that
would be daunting. Since the passage of the Bill of Rights, only
17 amendments have been added to the Constitution. But Morgenthaler-Jones
and Chen are undeterred. Their first goal is to attract supporters
from key states with large immigrant populations, including California,
New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts. They aim to attract 10 million
supporters by 2006.
“The most difficult challenge for now is the effort to get
organized,” Morgenthaler-Jones said. But once the group gets
momentum, she added, it will see “what happens when the political
establishment realizes, ‘These guys are real.’”
By Louis Jacobson ’92
Louis Jacobson ’92 is deputy editor of Roll Call
newspaper in Washington, D.C.