Yes to a NY constitutional convention

New York State’s constitution requires a referendum every 20 years on whether to hold a constitutional convention. It comes up this November. The last time, voters said no. The last time we did have a convention, voters rejected the package of changes it produced.

I will vote yes.

It’s mainly my cussed contrarianism, because all the special interests, the powerful labor unions, the real estate developers, and the incumbent politicians, have lined up a solid wall of opposition. They obviously feel the privileges they enjoy under the existing system are just fine, thank you very much, and any change might imperil them. An excellent reason to vote the other way.

Meantime, it’s argued that holding a convention would be a big fat waste of time and money because the same old pols are likely to be elected as delegates, and the same old special interests and lobbyists will control it. Yet isn’t there a contradiction? If the entrenched pols and special interests will control a convention, why are they so adamantly afraid of holding it?

My take is this. A vote against a convention is a vote saying everything about New York’s constitution and governance is perfect. No need even for tweaks. But are they perfect? Are you f—ing kidding me?

Government and politics in New York stink. New York vies for being the most politically corrupt state in the nation, as well as the least democratic. One legislative leader after another has been convicted of crimes, abusing their public trusts, taking bribes, along with sundry other officials, including a former state comptroller (who’s supposed to be our fiscal watchdog). We’ll soon have corruption trials of former top aides to Governor Cuomo, as well as the nanotech czar who was the state’s second most powerful figure. These cases involve the corrupt awarding of billions in state contracts. Cuomo disclaims all knowledge — even though a flood of money into his campaign coffers was an integral element of what was going on. In spite of all this blatant corruption, Cuomo is poised to win re-election, using all that ill-gotten money to obliterate any opponent. (And then run for president.)

And New York needs no constitutional changes?

The recent reversal, on a technicality, of slimy Speaker Sheldon Silver’s conviction shows even more powerfully that we need changes to our legal framework. One might also mention term limits, initiative-and-referendum, and an end to gerrymandering (a biggie). I’m sure the League of Women Voters, Blair Horner’s NYPIRG, etc., can come up with a much larger agenda list.

If, by some miracle, the establishment loses this referendum vote, I would not actually be optimistic that the resultant convention will produce anything good; or that, if it did, the changes would survive the gauntlet of opposition from those whose oxen are gored. Yet nevertheless, a vote against holding a convention at all would be a vote conceding that we’re beaten at the starting line. It would be giving up on democracy.

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5 Responses to “Yes to a NY constitutional convention”

  1. david c Says:

    So Ive never really been able to figure out the difference between a bribe and a campaign contribution, perhaps the lack of specificity, but the white collar criminals have been in charge since the creation of white collars. Feeling very defeated today…

  2. Chips Says:

    Sheldon Silver’s actions are thoroughly reprehensible. He was indicted under federal law, convicted, and then that conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals. How did perceived deficiencies in the New York State Constitution frustrate justice in this instance?

  3. rationaloptimist Says:

    Well, Chips — off the top of my head, one thing that would have prevented Silver from doing what he did would be TERM LIMITS. Beyond that, I am not sufficiently immersed in the details of New York’s state government ethics provisions, but I do know that various proposals to tighten them (e.g., closing the LLC loophole) over the years have gotten nowhere, for obvious reasons.

  4. Greg Says:

    We don’t have constitutional conventions in my State (California) and I don’t know much about NY politics beyond a few salacious stories in the news. But perhaps a convention could gain traction if an issue came to the forefront with wide-spread appeal among the voters, along with a grassroots campaign to force politicians to act. An anti-corruption amendment, perhaps?

  5. Lee Says:

    Is there a mechanism for approving amendments one by one? That would be a lot less scary for me. With a convention, I imagine that it is all or none for the proposed amendments, which I fear would too easily put bad things into the constitution.

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