Endorsements from across the state of New York
Endorsement from Poughkeepsie Journal
Addressing the pervasive political corruption in Albany. Overhauling the out-of-control public authorities. Vastly improving the secretive, top-down budget process. Creating a fair, objective process for the drawing of legislative districts.
There literally is no end to the good a state Constitutional Convention could do for New York – if it were approved by the people this year and then properly executed.
Voters can start a series of actions leading to such long-sought-after reforms by voting “yes” on the Nov. 7 to proposal 1. That proposal simply asks “Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?”
The state Constitution itself mandates the question be placed on the ballot every 20 years for New Yorkers to consider.
Given the undeniable problems crippling Albany, New Yorkers should seize the opportunity, especially since they will have another chance to vote on any proposed changes.
Here’s how it works: If voters give the convention the go-ahead this November, they head back to the booth in November 2018 to select the delegates serving at the convention. The convention would be held in April 2019, and any proposed constitutional changes would have to go before voters for approval in November 2019. Thus, not only is this a long process, it’s one with various safeguards along the way.
Throughout the state’s storied history, constitutional conventions have done a world of good, including making it clear New Yorkers believe the Adirondacks and Catskills should have certain “forever wild” protections and that the state acknowledges a commitment to care for the needy and provide for at least a basic education to students.
It’s true the more recent history of conventions hasn’t fared as well. The last convention was in 1967, but the proposals were ultimately rejected by the voters. And the mere idea of holding one was roundly beaten at the polls in 1987.
Critics often cite the costs, which would go into the tens of millions of dollars, and the fear the process would be hijacked by political bosses and big-money lobbyists; powerful unions, in particular, are concerned that pension protections could be jeopardized.
The state Constitution can be, and has been, amended through other means – an affirmative vote of two successive legislatures and then approval by the voters. But the so-called “reforms” accomplished this way have been more like placing a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. A convention, in contrast, authorizes elected citizens (that is, the delegates) – to look at the entire document and make recommendations.
Consider that dozens of former state lawmakers, including various legislative leaders, have been indicted and convicted or have faced ethical scandals in the last decade or so – yet the state doesn’t have a truly independent ethics panel.
Consider that raw politics, not objective reasoning, determine how the political lines are drawn, and these so-called “gerrymandered” districts give incumbents an unfair advantage against challengers – yet the state doesn’t have an independent commission to redraw these lines.
Consider that New York’s reports have shown state public authorities “often operate under the radar and with their own set of rules” and have amassed billions of dollars of debt – yet there has been no real effort to streamline these authorities and put them under true legislative oversight.
The list goes, from the alarming increase in the governor’s power to the state’s weak-kneed efforts at campaign finance and voting improvements.
The well-respected Dr. Gerald Benjamin, associate vice president for regional engagement and director of the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Engagement at SUNY New Paltz, cites the “once in a generation chance a convention may bring to address the pandemic corruption and dysfunction in Albany.”
He is right. The convention provides the only hope, the only true mechanism, for citizens to get around the entrenched Albany bureaucracy and make the changes they want. Voters shouldn’t rule out the option. They should instead give a convention a chance, recognizing they ultimately will get to decide whether any proposed changes go through.
Endorsement from Journal News
The Nov. 7 ballot asks a question that could, depending on who you talk to, start New York State down the road to improving our state’s founding document or could send us spiraling toward the dismantling of core New York tenets. Those hopes and deep fears are seeded in Proposal 1, which will appear on the back of the ballot: “Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?”
It’s a sad day when people can make a legitimate argument about not allowing a Constitutional Convention out of fear that it would simply serve special interests.
Let’s prove them wrong and practice some democracy. Let’s have a Con Con.
New York’s Constitution offers the option of holding a Constitutional Convention every 20 years. But the November vote is just the first step in the process. If the question passes, voters would elect delegates (three from every state Senate district and 15 statewide) on the November 2018 ballot; then the convention would occur in April 2019. The proposals put forth by delegates would then be subject to the public’s vote on the November 2019 ballot.
Sure, there are scary parts, including the fact that there is no agenda for the convention. Anything can come up. Fears expressed by opponents include lost pensions for public workers; changes to reproductive health laws that could make them more or less restrictive; and alterations to constitutional land protections that could either further restrict or open up development.
“They are free to work on what any issues they want, without a restriction,” NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner explained in a recent roundtable discussion hosted by the Editorial Board. Horner, whose organization has remained neutral on a Con Con, also brought up another scary point for many: “There are no restrictions on who can serve as a delegate.”
So who would these delegates be? Who will run? Who should run? Those against the Con-Con say that, most likely, elected officials will be the ones who seek the paid position of the delegate. That means, critics warn, we will get the same old, same old and they get a nice taxpayer-funded bonus.
“There won’t be very many Mr. Smiths,” said Jerry Kremer, recalling the classic Frank Capra film that sent an everyman to straighten out a corrupt U.S. Senate. Kremer was a member of the Assembly during the 1967 Con Con (called by the state Legislature) and said he was shocked by how many delegates turned out to be elected officials. Now the head of a lobbying group, Kremer said that the convention process is not a realistic way to produce results. There’s no way to know, he said, what special interests may spend big money to influence an issue the way that hedge-funders have pushed charter schools in New York.
A long list of organizations share his concerns, starting with unions, but including groups from Planned Parenthood to New York State Right to Life Committee. These groups generally believe that a convention made up of politician-delegates won’t make things better, but could, because of the unpredictability factor, make things worse.
New Yorkers must remember that November’s yes/no vote is just the first step in many important decisions that voters will make. Choosing delegates that will represent locals’ interests is key. If a convention is approved, good-government groups, community groups, even groups of neighbors, can work to identify delegate candidates from outside the “system” and to organize their campaigns for delegate selection in 2018. As Wilson said, “It’s not 1967 anymore,” and savvy New Yorkers can use social media to try to promote their candidates.
Here’s a way to accomplish a diverse pool of citizen-delegates: Treat it like service in the National Guard, with employers allowing employees elected as delegates to take unpaid time off so they can serve. This is something that businesses should start considering soon after Election Day if the proposition is approved. Delegates are, after all, responding to a call to service, in support of democracy.
New York voters would still play an important role after a convention, with an opportunity to support or reject any proposals on the November 2019 ballot. In 1967, the proposals were bundled into one big up-or-down vote. Of course, voters rejected the whole thing. If the Constitutional Convention does the hard work of developing changes for voters to consider, each should be offered on its own merits, with separate questions. That way, voters can keep the best and reject the rest.
A convention could reform New York’s voting laws, making it easier for people to register and cast a ballot; overhaul the way redistricting takes place, so voters are represented better and elected officials aren’t ensured incumbency in gerrymandered districts; modernize a so-called “unified court system” with its complex web of trial and appellate courts that leads to costly, slow justice; and address other issues that legislators are loathing to tackle ethics reform.
A full review of New York’s governing documents is certainly needed. Jennifer Wilson of the League of Women Voters of New York State pointed out that the League did not support the last Con Con in 1967, but backs holding one now. Since the last convention, she said, 36 legislators have been indicted. Banking on the Legislature to realign New York’s convoluted judicial system or strengthen their own ethics rules “has led to nothing but disappointment.”
Gerald Benjamin, a distinguished professor at SUNY New Paltz andperhapss New York’s top cheerleader for a convention, said that skepticism about a convention signals “a loss of faith in democracy.” People are afraid, he said, to look at the “fundamentals” of our how state government operates, even though so many are dissatisfied with that very government. Benjamin pointed out that many interest groups, in promoting fear of special interests, seem to be saying “Watch out, you might elect us!”
And there is proof that Con Cons can produce good work, Benjamin said. While conventions failed to gain interest or make change in the 20th Century, cornerstone constitutional provisions, such as “Forever Wild” land preservation regulations, came out of earlier constitutional conventions.
As Horner said, the Con Con is a “risk versus benefit calculation.” But we must remember that voters would have final say, in November 2019, over any proposals that come out of a convention. New Yorkers would have at least several weeks, if not longer, to debate any proposed changes. Yes, special interests could try to influence the vote. But we trust New Yorkers to figure things out for themselves.
Voters haven’t called a constitutional convention since 1938. Another opportunity for the public to convene one won’t come until a century later, in 2037. At a time when many have become cynical about government, what better time than now to try to show that democracy does still work?
We’ll stand for putting faith in a process that emphasizes the people’s choice, as we remind New Yorkers that this opportunity needs all our close attention, this year and throughout the process.
Endorsement from Buffalo News
The last time New Yorkers were required to consider holding a constitutional convention, they demurred. That was in 1997 and, according to the state’s 20-year schedule, voters will again be asked this November if they want to convene such a gathering to make changes to the state’s foundational document. They should vote to do so.
It is true that there are risks in holding such a convention. Delegates could be beholden to officeholders who want to manipulate the state to their advantage. The upstate/downstate split could be exacerbated, especially if the downstate power center dominates the proceedings.
Those were the arguments that arose in 1997, as well, and likely in 1977, too, when a convention was also rejected. But there is a different dynamic in 2017, one that compels serious consideration of the benefits that such a convention might produce.
Foremost among them is the issue of ethics. Albany has none. It’s a playground for extortionists, thieves and other crooks, among them a former governor, a former state comptroller, a former Assembly speaker and a former leader of the State Senate. The place is crawling with miscreants who think their positions of public trust amount to a license to raid the public cupboard or otherwise indulge a dangerous sense of entitlement.
Since the most recent of those convictions, Albany has done precious little to improve its standard of ethics. Its practice is to stick a toe into the waters of ethics reform, declare a great victory and then get back to the business of robbing the public. It won’t change on its own. A constitutional convention could force that issue.
Among the matters, it could consider are limits on campaign contributions, abolishing the preposterous “LLC loophole” that allows virtually unlimited political donations by businesses, and further restricting outside income by legislators.
A constitutional convention could do away with the sleazy way that political bosses control judicial elections, deciding who will ascend to the bench. It could add balance to the state Taylor Law, which governs labor issues and tilts too far toward unions and away from taxpayers.
Of course, possibilities such as those are what cause some interests to oppose a constitutional convention. A spokesman for the Democratic-controlled Assembly, which opposes a convention, openly worried about “the potential to roll back important worker protections and other rights.” His counterpart in the Republican-controlled Senate fretted about the possibility that “radical New York City interests could seize control of the process … and cause irreparable damage to our state government.”
But there is another aspect to government resistance to a constitutional convention: Legislators like Albany as it is. They understand its crooked ways and know how to make maximum use of them, within or without the bounds of the law. Their fears need to be taken with several grains of salt.
That is not to deny that a convention could open the door to mischief. The possibilities for capricious maneuvers are a real concern that would need to be addressed. Questions to consider include who can be a delegate to such a convention, the rules of procedure and the way in which the public is required to vote on the results: Would there be a vote on each proposal, or on an all-or-nothing package of reforms?
These are serious questions, but they hover over this undeniable fact: New York is a damaged and corrupt state that will not fix itself. Any hope for improvement must come from voters. This fall, they will have a chance to force the issues that Albany prefers to ignore.
Endorsement from The Daily Star
Imagine … just imagine that there might be a chance to deal effectively with New York state’s cesspool of massive corruption.
Yes, you might fairly say “whoa” or “get out of town” or some such other utterance of incredulity.
C’mon, we’re talking about Noo Yawk here, home of the “three men in a room” form of government that has resulted in Assembly speakers and state Senate leaders wearing a path from the state Capitol building to the state penitentiary.
How do we possibly change that?
By holding a constitutional convention to make big changes in the state’s charter, that’s how.
By state law (and maybe that should be changed, too), we only get to do this sort of thing every 20 years. That’s way too long to wait. Even cicadas get up and do stuff every 17 years.
In November of 2017, there will likely be a ballot question to decide whether to have a convention. Should voters approve it, delegates would be elected across the state in 2018. Then, in 2019, the delegates would meet for four months to draw up changes to the constitution that would then go before voters for final approval.
Sounds like an awful lot of work, doesn’t it? It might also cost as much as $100 million. But if we look around at the government waste, the high taxes, the gerrymandering of districts, the power of those “three men in a room” (the governor, the Assembly speaker, and the Senate leader), we figure it would be well worth it.
“This is an opportunity to deal with a government that’s not performing,” said Gerald Benjamin, vice president for regional engagement at the State University College at New Paltz. “It’s an opportunity for direct democracy. It’s time to press the reset button.”
We absolutely agree. Press that button.
However, it is anything but a unanimous sentiment. Powerful unions who seem to be doing just fine under the current setup will be working hard to discourage a “yes” vote.
“It would open the door for dark money and billionaire hedge-funders to try to buy changes to the constitution that would harm working New Yorkers,” said Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers.
The anti-convention forces won out in 1997 when the citizenry voted down a ballot measure calling for one. In fact, since the state constitution was adopted in 1777, there have been only nine conventions, with the most recent being in 1967.
It is well past time for another.
“I think it is going to be something of a referendum on what it means to be a reformer,” said Richard Brodsky, a former Westchester County assemblyman. “A lot of people say they want to change. But when, all of a sudden, they get a chance to change things, they back off.”
Critics of the ballot measure insist that we don’t need a convention to change the constitution, that it has been amended about 200 times without one.
But those people are missing the point, which is that the corruption, the power in too few hands and the system that favors the moneyed interests over the working men and women in this state won’t disappear in drips and drabs.
This November, we are going to be electing every member of the state Legislature. All of them will tell you that they will fight for your interests in Albany when in reality all they will really be doing is the bidding of those “three men in a room” and passing out to you enough of your tax money to keep you voting for them.
It’s a lousy, crooked way to run a state, and it needs to change, beginning with voting to have a constitutional convention.
NY Daily News
The surest sign New York voters should approve a state Constitutional Convention in the once-every-two-decades opportunity coming this November is the caterwauling against the con con among the power players in Albany’s Legislature.
A threat to the rights New Yorkers hold dear, frets Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
A gazillon-dollar boondoggle, projects Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.
An open invitation “in this dangerous era of Trump” for “powerful corporate interests” to wreak havoc, warns Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
The lady — and gentlemen — doth protest too much.
The singular truth, and at the root of their fears, is that Election Day referenda will enable citizens to clean up New York’s rotten system of government, in ways highly inconvenient to the power of legislative leaders and the special interests that butter their English muffins.
New York’s Constitution, older than our nation’s, reaches at once toward powerfully high aspirations and low bogs of muck.
Among the high points: a guarantee that the Adirondack Park will “be forever kept wild” and, as of 1938, assertions that promoting public health, educating all kids and aiding the needy are the government’s obligation.
But our state Constitution also lies at the root of some unacceptable failings, among them:
• A Byzantine court system, with a preposterous 11 different tiers in some places and 13 different levels in other areas. All those patronage jobs cost the state dearly while complicating the delivery of justice.
• Voter registration restrictions that give New York one of the lowest rates of election turnout in the nation, prohibiting same-day registration an mail-in voting.
• The power of state lawmakers to gerrymander districts to preserve their own perches, and to ultimately control their own ethics reviews.
Delegates to a convention — who would run for election in 2018 if voters do the right thing and say yes this Nov. 7 — could consider solutions to any of the above plagues and much more.
They would then put the results before the people for approval, a step that should put to rest any fears in this majority-Democratic state that a runaway convention would strip cherished protections for union organizing or welfare benefits.
Gov. Cuomo, almost alone among Albany leaders, has voiced his support, in an echo of his father’s failed effort to get a convention called the last time New York had a shot, in 1997.
The words this Editorial Board wrote in support of a con back then hold, to the letter, today, their resonance over time only underlining the necessity of finally fixing festering flaws:
“The state’s government is a scandalous embarrassment. It is tilted to keep incumbents in power, to please special interests and to thwart reform. It is a system that, even on its good days, is maddeningly dysfunctional.”
At a moment of pervasive political cynicism and a hopelessness that government can get much good done, New York has a chance to renew itself for the sake of future generations.
SUIT FILED AGAINST NYS BOARD OF ELECTIONS TO PUT CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION ON FRONT OF BALLOT IN NOVEMBER New York, NY – August 11, 2017 – Evan A. Davis, former Counsel to Governor Mario Cuomo, has sued the New York State Board of Elections to obtain a court order requiring that the Constitutional Convention...Read More