Every 20 years, New York is one of 14 states that automatically asks voters whether or not it should convene a constitutional convention.
If voters say yes, then a year later, they will elect 204 people — three from each state senate district, and 15 at-large — who will collect a paycheck similar to an Assemblyman and see how they can change New York’s most important governmental document.
Any changes the delegates agree on will then head back to voters in 2019 where we get the final say.
Such a gathering would be a no-brainer, yet New Yorkers have rejected the last three attempts to hold such a convention — and there are many who would like to make it a fourth time.
Some of the biggest opponents to a constitutional convention are elected officials who have publicly expressed concerns that a convention could change the very essence of New York, and not in a way any of us would want.
Maybe so. It’s hard to tell what exactly a constitutional convention would put together because we haven’t put one together since 1967. The fear-mongering, however, is baseless.
When we go to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether to move forward with a constitutional convention, we’re not handing over the keys to a Mercedes and hoping for the best. Instead, we’re letting a select group of people — and by “select,” we mean that voters get to choose them — borrow our hedge trimmer, and we expect they’ll give them back in time for us to do our own landscaping.
A constitutional convention has the freedom to discuss any aspect of the state law they want (as long as it doesn’t conflict with federal law), but they won’t make the final decision for us. We make the final decision for us.
And isn’t that what government is supposed to be about? What better way to listen to what constituents have to say than in a forum where they can openly discuss it, and maybe make a difference. They can tackle a number of issues that lawmakers and their wealthy benefactors would prefer us not to talk about — and that’s probably the main reason why they don’t want us going through this process in the first place.
The fact is, while New York’s government is far more efficient than anything we’ll find in Washington right now, there is still not a lot happening. The Assembly is controlled by the Democrats, and thanks to Sen. Jeffrey Klein and his Independent Democratic Conference, the state senate is controlled by the Republicans. Even at the state level, there are some major ideological differences, and we shouldn’t expect that stalemate lifting anytime soon.
Yes, a constitutional convention costs money. Right now, an Assemblyman makes $79,500 each year, so payroll alone would be $1.6 million. Compared to a $163 billion budget, however, we’re talking lunch money.
And this is lunch money well spent. While many elected officials might end up as delegates, this is a chance to also elect our neighbors, or even better, ourselves.
You really can make a difference by speaking up on these pages, or even online. But imagine the difference you can make at a constitutional convention. And New York deserves to have one.