Every time I turn around, someone is espousing a New York State Constitutional Convention. I think this is a very bad idea. If a Constitutional Convention were capable of cleaning up the huge New York State Constitution (more than 50,000 words) and removing stuff that should be in statute and not in the Constitution at all, I would have no problem with the concept. The problem is, and even the proponents of the proposed Convention know it, that the same politicians who are always protecting their fannies by refusing to pass sensible ethics reform will be the ones controlling the proposed Convention. Why in the world would they or their hack friends vote for the same sort of reform in a Constitutional Convention?
One of the things that I have going for me is my 75 years on earth (75 is the new 50). I’ve seen the political class control these Conventions and nothing would change this time. It takes a lot to get elected to a Convention. You have to spend money, you have to use lawn signs, and you have to carry petitions. That means that the existing political machines will get their people to run. If it doesn’t look right for them to be there themselves, they can get their friends or their cousin Louie elected. Same difference. They would still control things.
We are talking about spending millions of dollars of the people’s money to make this happen, when there is virtually nothing that a Constitutional Convention would do that the Legislature couldn’t do. They just won’t. So, if one and one make two, and the Legislature won’t do what has to be done, why should we believe that a Convention would fare any better?
Some believe that another reason NOT to have a Convention is that there are some major facets of New York’s Constitution that are protective of what we have, including things like pension benefits, guaranteed education for our kids, the forever wild Adirondacks, and the right to unionize.
We all know that powerful lobbies and interest groups can accomplish great mischief. For example, the 1967 Convention came up with many ridiculous recommendations, including doing away with the so-called Blaine Amendment, which prohibits the use of state money to assist sectarian schools. That would really have been a punch in the belly to public education in New York State. Hey, if you want your kids to go to private or religious schools, be my guest. You can do it but you’ll have to pay for it. Somehow that stinker made its way through the 1967 Convention and when the voters were asked to ratify the Constitution they said no to the whole rotten deal. Talk about a waste of taxpayer dollars.
The New York State United Teachers are particularly vigorous about voting no on the Convention idea. They are in favor of getting together with the so-called good government groups to argue against “spending millions of dollars to hold a party in Albany.” In addition, there are huge numbers of patronage jobs associated with a Convention and the same politicians who make the Legislature go will be finding jobs for their friends’ allies and families.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has been on record as in favor of a Convention but he has not done the things that governors usually do in order to make one happen. There have been calls for him to establish a gubernatorial appointed commission to lay the groundwork for a Convention, but thus far he hasn’t done so. Of course, Cuomo has been known to be for things and then to give observers reason to believe that he is actually against what he says he has been for — things such as ethics laws that actually have teeth in them. As Harry, my old doorman on 96th Street once said, “Just vote no.”