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Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

March 9, 2005

Arnold for president
Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones ’79 and Mimi Chen ’79 work to amend U.S. Constitution


Morgenthaler-Jones ’79 Chen ’79

Lissa 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.