Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Could a Constitutional Convention Fix NY Politics in Albany?

Speaking of political conventions, are we all getting excited for the next big one? I'm talking about the possibility of a New York Constitutional Convention.

What? You hadn't heard? The State Constitution requires a ballot referendum every 20 years on whether to convene to debate changes to the State Constitution. The next referendum is in November 2017, and if it passes, a Constitutional Convention would be scheduled for April 2019, with proposed changes to be voted on by New Yorkers that November.

If you're rolling your eyes and thinking, what a waste of time and money, you are not alone. Already, naysayers are pointing out the cons of a Convention. Last month, lobbyist and former Assemblyman Jerry Kremer gave chapter and verse, and a book he wrote on the subject, on why Constitutional Conventions will be the No. 1 issue next year and why they are an unnecessary boondoggle. "The system is legally rigged," he said, sounding a bit like Donald Trump.

Kremer said Constitutional Conventions have become opportunities for Political Parties to flex their muscles because they have the power to appoint the delegates who determine the issues that get voted on; for special interests to advance pet causes that couldn't pass during a Legislative session, giving lobbyists another opportunity to bill their clients; and for politicians to collect an extra paycheck and grow their staffs. The 1967 Convention that cost $37 million would cost $300 million in today's dollars.

And for what? There already exist ways to amend the Constitution without the rigmarole of a Convention. In 2013, voters approved a Constitutional Amendment to expand casino gambling.

But Constitutional Conventions are not to be dismissed lightly. Kremer pointed out that the Convention of 1894 had some consequential achievements: Delegates preserved the Adirondacks; Susan B. Anthony and her fellow suffragists highlighted women's disenfranchisement; the Blaine Amendment passed, banning State money from funding parochial schools.

Convention supporters say it could address thorny issues that the Legislature can't or won't address on its own, namely anything that would reduce or enhance its power, like Ethics or Campaign Finance reform.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year suggested he'd support a Constitutional Convention, saying Albany was "broken." But unless he heeds calls to appoint nonpartisans as delegates, plus retired journalists to solicit ideas and moderate debates, a Constitutional Convention will not be worth the money spent putting on the show.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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