By Chaitram Aklu
On Tuesday November 7, Election Day, voters will see on the back of the ballot, Proposition 1 – Constitutional Convention followed by a question similar to this: “Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?” A Constitutional Convention is really not nnecessary and appears to be more like ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’. There is a great deal to lose and voters are urged to vote “NO” on this Proposition. If a majority votes “NO” there will be no Constitutional Convention.
The New York State Constitution provides that every 20 years “the people decide if a Constitutional Convention should be held to consider amendments to the State Constitution”. If the majority of voters vote “Yes” then all aspects of the state’s constitution would be open for amendments and after that voters may have no input in the process until the amendments appear on the ballot a few years from now.
The Constitutional Convention Proposition was previously rejected by voters in 1977 and again in 1997 and it should be rejected again on November 7.
In a New York Daily News article of February 6, 2017 titled “Cuomo expresses reservations about state constitutional convention”, the Governor expressed concern about the process when he said “[Y]ou have to find a way where the delegates do not wind up being the same legislators you are trying to change the rules on. I have not heard a plan that does that.” and “The theory of the constitutional convention is just good people come in and they’re the delegates. The way it will work is you’ll probably elect assembly and senators as delegates. And the unions will probably fund the campaigns. And you may make the situation worse not better.”
The public should be aware that unions are vehemently opposed to a constitutional convention because of the harm it can bring to workers and their families in New York State. The last time there was a constitutional convention was 1967 (a Special Convention) and it was considered a waste of time and resources since it produced no significant changes to the Constitution.
A “yes” vote starts the process where each Senate District would elect Delegates in November 2018. The Convention will convene in April 2019 and propose amendments to be on the ballot. Voters will ratify or reject the amendments at the November 2019 elections. If the amendments are ratified changes to the constitution go into effect on January 1, 2020. Delegates would set their own rules, hire their own staff, and get paid at about $80 000 each. It will cost tens of millions of dollars of tax payers’ money.
According to the Board of Elections, “The delegates will have the power to appoint the officers, employees, and assistants that they deem necessary and to fix the compensation of those officers, employees, and assistants. The delegates also will have the power to provide for the expenses of the Convention, including the printing of its documents, journal, and proceedings. The delegates will determine the rules of their proceedings, choose their officers, and be the judge of the election, returns, and qualifications of their members.” Funding would not be an issue.
Why should the people of New York State vote “NO”? They are now living in desperate times and there is too much at stake for ordinary working people and their families – safety and health protections, State Budget oversight transparency, workmen’s compensation, public education funding, environmental protections, contractual rights and wages, pensions and benefits, state obligations to retirees, Civil Rights and Social Welfare, the right to collectively bargain.
In short, everything that is protected by the State’s Constitution right now, would be open to be tampered with if Proposition 1 passes and there is a Constitutional Convention. According to Ballotpedia, Carl Heastie the State Assembly Speaker is against a Constitutional Convention.
“We are going to need you to remind people that dangerous things can happen. There are some very wealthy people who want to pen up the constitution and really undo some of the protections of labor.”
Ballotpedia also ran a quote from Steve Ammerman spokesperson for the New York Farm Bureau (Albany Times Union 09/02/2017) who expressed the view that “convention delegates who are unfamiliar with agriculture and rural life would make lasting decisions that would negatively affect farmers.”
Both Governor Cuomo (who supports the Constitutional Convention) and Speaker Heastie (who opposes it) have voiced valid concerns about the process. In 1967 (the special Convention) every single politician in Albany who ran for a convention delegate seat won a seat, and every single convention leader was a sitting legislator. Voters should remember that not so long ago several Albany politicians were hauled before the courts and some even served time in prison.
Voters should also know that spending tens of millions of dollars would amount to a waste of precious hard earned tax dollars as happened in 1967, because any state law can be changed by the State Legislature through the normal constitutional amendment process. It does not require a change in the State’s Constitution.
So, on Tuesday November 7, voters throughout New York State should flock to the polls and after voting on the front of the ballot, turn it over and vote “NO” on Proposition 1. If they do not vote, they lose their right to speak.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.