But I can’t….
Many people don’t know that we have a general election coming up. Being a Democratic town, most of the races are decided by the September primaries, when Democrats challenge each other. Nonetheless, I still urge all to get out and vote DeBlasio, James, Stringer; and Levin, Lander, or Menchaca come Election Day. That is the front of the ballot. There is a whole different kettle of fish on the back.
On the B-side (for those who remember vinyl) we get to decide whether or not to hold a constitutional convention.
A constitutional convention is a gathering of elected delegates (anyone can run but they are usually elected officials) who propose revisions and amendments to our state constitution. In New York we are required to decide if a convention should be held every 20 years.
This is a very exciting possibility and if I had a more faith and less cynicism I’d vote for it.
After all who wouldn’t favor changing troubling aspects of the status quo.
However, when I consider the potential mischief that could emerge, those negatives compel me to vote NO.
One negative is that low voter turnouts across the state don’t bode well for a convention producing amendments that most people want—it would be what those who bother to vote want.
Combine low voter turnout with the fact delegates will be elected along the gerrymandered lines of the Republican controlled State Senate and you’ve got two strikes against. There would be 3 delegates from each senate district and 15 at-large delegates statewide.
Despite NY State’s largely Democratic/progressive leanings, the Republican Party has held the majority in the senate since World War 2. One might say this is an arrangement (sometimes corrupt) that the two legislatures along with the governor, maintain.
Even in Brooklyn, where we vote 80/20 in favor of Democrats, 4 of the 9 State Senate seats are held by Republicans.
Now I will concede that some pundit friends of mine, such as Howard Graubard, rightly mock some of the scare tactics (such as taking away worker pensions) that are used in the campaign to vote NO—but there are real risks involved that big monied interests may have an oversize influence in crafting amendments.
There must be serious concern that obscure aspects of state law could be changed and people would barely know about. In a state that has a hard enough time paying attention to its two legislative bodies I really don’t think a third group of delegates will be taken more seriously.
Sure I like to debate reforms such as California style run off /non partisan primaries and publicly financed elections but I have doubts (due to the still corrupt aspects of our state government) that this could happen.
The New York Civil Liberties Union says that a constitutional convention could risk already existing state protections for many things (labor protections, reproductive rights) that are stronger than those under federal law.
So, like a person being reigned in by bureaucratic restrictions wishing to help you but unable to —I wish I could vote for a constitutional convention but, due to political realities, including the unprecedented situation of today’s federal government, I cannot.
PS—the most I’ve doubted my position was when reading a NY Post editorial opposing the “Con Con,” but then again they may be using reverse psychology. https://www.google.com/amp/nypost.com/2017/09/07/why-new-yorkers-shouldnt-fall-for-the-constitutional-convention-con/amp/.
Link to Howard Graubard’s Constiutional Convention piece referenced above- https://thebridgebk.com/why-new-yorkers-shouldnt-be-scared-of-a-con-con/
Michael Racioppo is the Executive Director of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation as well as the Vice Chairman of Community Board 6.