Shall there be a convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Kathy Fiero, president of the Voorheesville Teachers Association, says outside money would have too much influence on a constitutional convention, which is one reason she is voting “no.”

The vast majority of New York voters want change — favoring, for example, term limits or citizen ballots to pass laws — but half of them haven’t heard of the means to do that: a constitutional convention, according to an Oct. 6 poll by the Siena College Research Institute.

Once every 20 years — including this Nov. 7 — New Yorkers get to vote whether or not to hold a constitutional convention, which could revise and amend its governing document.

The state has held nine such conventions, starting with the framing of the constitution in 1776 and 1777.

A convention is touted by supporters as a way around legislative gridlock on issues as divisive as guaranteed abortion or repealing gun control. Those opposed to the convention voice concerns it would undermine current legal precedence and guaranteed rights.

New York does not allow for citizens to petition for a statewide ballot the way, for example, Colorado legalized cannabis.

Currently, there are two ways to amend the Constitution of New York State. Besides a constitutional convention, the most frequently used way is for a proposed amendment to pass both houses of the legislature in two separate, consecutive sessions. And then, during the next election, voters are asked to vote on the proposal.

In November, this process will be used to ask voters to allow judges the ability to revoke the pension of a public officials who are convicted of a felony related to their duties, and whether to create a 250-acre land bank to provide forest preserve land for local municipal projects.

Voters will also be asked a third question: ”Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”

By answering “yes,” voters have a way to bypass the normal process of passing legislation by having (potentially) different convention delegates who may take action on some of the biggest perceived issues facing New York, by proposing revisions and amendments to the state constitution.

A “yes” vote this November begins the process where rules are established by the legislature for the nomination and election of delegates, who would be selected during the November 2018 election. The constitutional convention would then begin on April 2, 2019.


The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Historian Bruce Dearstyne thinks there is opposition to holding a constitutional convention “because people are so discouraged these days about some of the state of political affairs in the nation, and in Washington, in particular. And they are just worried about anything that might render a big change in things.”


There is no time limit on the convention. The two most recently held conventions, 1967, and before that, 1938, lasted six and five months, respectively. But for a single exception — 1867 — conventions delegates have submitted their work to the voters for approval or rejection before the next general election. For this convention, that would be Nov. 5, 2019.

Two-hundred-and-four delegates would be elected to the convention; three delegates elected from each of the state’s 63 senatorial districts, plus 15 statewide. Delegates pay would be paid the same salary as members of the State Assembly — $79,500.


— New York Public Library
On April 20, 1777, members of the first constitutional convention assembled in front of the Kingston courthouse while, as the inscription says, “Robert Benson mounted upon a barrel read the immortal document to the assembled multitude.”


Predicting and repeating history

“I think a lot of people are still undecided, although the people against it have maybe made more of an emphatic, and dramatic, and higher-visibility case,” says historian Dr. Bruce Dearstyne, who worked as program director at the state archives. “What often happened in the past, unfortunately, is people don’t vote on this, which is bad. Last time [1997], when it went down to defeat, about half of the people [who voted] didn’t vote on it at all,”

A Sept. 25, 1997, poll from Quinnipiac College, now University, showed that 49 percent of respondents said they’d vote “yes” to holding a constitutional convention, while 22 percent said “no,” and 29 percent were undecided.

In the November election of 1997, about 4.2 million ballots were cast statewide: About 1.6 million voted “no” to holding a constitutional convention; under a million voted “yes”; and 1.7 million — 40 percent —  left the question blank. In Albany County, in 1997, there were 96,095 ballots cast: 26,48 voted “yes” to hold a constitutional convention; 48,654 voted “no”; and 21,293, or 22 percent, left the line blank.

What happened between the end of September when close to half were in favor of a convention and the beginning of November when a majority voted against it?

Reporting by The New York Times from that time says that voters were “apparently swayed by a last-minute campaign mounted by labor unions and their allies…In the last two weeks, convention opponents spent $725,000, most of it from unions, on a television and radio advertising campaign, and, by some estimates, several times that much on mailings and phone banks.”

“As recently as mid-October, polls showed voters, upset at the apparent dysfunction of the Capitol, [were] overwhelmingly in favor of a convention … But those same polls indicated that that support was less than firm, and it withered in the last two weeks, as unions set in motion their political machinery,” according to the report.

Also coming out against the convention were a small, diverse coalition with their own agendas, including business groups seeking budget reform and lower taxes, “legislators frustrated with a process controlled by a handful of people,” and proponents of term limits

Dearstyne thinks the arguments against holding a convention today are similar to the ones used in 1997.

“I think it’s because people are so discouraged these days about some of the state of political affairs in the nation, and in Washington, in particular. And they are just worried about anything that might render a big change in things,” he says.

“I think that the people who are against it have a number of things that they are advancing: One is that ‘special interests’ might get control of the convention, and do things we wouldn’t want done. That’s never really happened, but people think it could this time,” he says.

“Secondly, that it’s possible — I think unlikely, but possible — that the convention could take away certain specific rights, which are in there now,” says Dearstyne, adding, “One that is often cited is the so-called ‘forever wild provision,’ that protects the Adirondacks and the Catskills, and has since 1894.

“These folks also feel it is not needed because the constitution can be amended, which it has been, and will have two propositions this fall to vote on … It’s been amended about 200 times since 1894, but that’s one of the reasons it’s such a long, cumbersome document. And on some things, despite having lots of opportunities to do it — court reform being the best example — the legislature simply hasn’t acted,” he says.

“I think the pro [convention] people, who are advancing specific things, such as the Committee for a Constitutional Convention and the New York People’s Convention” have some pretty specific items that they'd like to see in the constitution, and they have some pretty good rationales for them, he says

People in the 19th Century seemed to have more confidence in changing the constitution, but in the 20th Century, they seemed more worried about it, Dearstyne said. Voters rejected the 1967 convention results, and they voted down even holding a convention in 1997, he says.

The collective states of the United States have convened at least 236 constitutional conventions since 1776. But none in the past 25 years — doubling, and then some, the previous record of 10 years, according to J.H. Snider, editor of the New York State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse.

Between 1916 and today, New Yorkers have voted twice, out of six opportunities, to hold a constitutional convention. Between 1821 and 1914, the state’s voters approved five of six conventions to be held.

“I think it has to do with confidence in the process, and [people] just worrying a special-interest group take it over and just run roughshod over the rest,” Dearstyne says.

But he adds a clarifying point: “It’s fair to say that, since 1777, that’s never happened.”

“If people vote “no,” then the next chance we get at this is 20 years from now,” Dearstyne says. “That’s a long time in the future.”


— Altamont Enterprise files
Three local lawyers ran in 1966 to be 
delegates for the state’s constitutional convention. Their pictures and biographies were printed in a Nov. 4, 1966 ad, paid for by Republicans, in The Altamont Enterprise.


“A big con”

“The constitutional convention is a big con on New Yorkers. It would be a taxpayer-funded party, that ordinary New Yorkers would not be invited to. We see it as a taxpayer-funded boondoggle that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and will be hijacked by the same lobbyists and politicians that currently run Albany,” says Carl Korn, chief press officer of the New York State United Teachers.

Korn was asked where he got the cost of the convention.

He said, “The League of Women Voters came out with $300 million as their estimate. We’re not saying that, but we do know it’s going to cost millions and millions of dollars. The reason why is there are no rules for this convention,” he said, continuing: “We do not know who the delegates will be; how long the convention will last; who will be hired; how much they will get paid; and, most importantly, what changes of the constitution that they will propose.”

According to the League of Women Voters of New York State, at the most recently held convention in 1967: There were 248 full-time staff and 58 paid interns. The president of the convention had 17 staffers; the majority leader had 5; the minority leader had 14; and each of the 16 committees had an average of 12 employees.

Laura Ladd Bierman, the group’s executive director, said her group came up with $300 million, based on an incorrect news story.

“It’s just totally inaccurate. We have corrected our materials, but there are still some materials that are out there from the initial distribution,” Bierman said

The League of Women Voters now estimates a constitutional convention to cost between $50 and $100 million, Bierman says.

Labor unions have been vocal in their opposition to the convention, and those in the “yes” camp see it as short-sighted.

“I think it’s myopic. I think they are trying to preserve a status quo that is on the verge of being destroyed because of the balance of power on the Supreme Court. The labor unions — which we are extremely supportive of — have the highest labor membership [as a percentage of total workers] in New York State. So, understandably, they see the status quo as beneficial to them. But the landscape is about to change,” says Morgan Pehme, Communications Director for NY says Yes and for NY People’s Convention.

The protections that unions enjoy came out of the 1938 convention. They were not passed by the legislature; they were passed by the people and this convention is an opportunity to strengthen labor protections, Pehme says.

The New York State AFL-CIO responded to what Pehme said, through an email from Darcy Wells, Communications Director at the NYS AFL-CIO: “The proponents are presenting a false choice that a convention is the only means to achieve change. The constitution has been amended more than 200 times without a convention, without wasting taxpayer dollars, without risking our hard-earned rights. Our members which include teachers, firefighters and nurses are not prepared to give delegates, who will overwhelmingly and undoubtedly be part of the political establishment, a blank check with our wages, pensions, and collective bargaining rights on the line. And, by the way, you don't have to be a union member to benefit from unemployment insurance, workers' compensation and the eight-hour day which is also covered by our constitution.”

The 1938 constitutional convention, amid the backdrop of the Great Depression, authorized the legislature to establish social programs for health, pension, and unemployment insurance.

The voters approved, among others, amendments authorizing state funding for those social welfare programs and an amendment that set the hours, rights, and wages of employees on public works projects.

Unions and 1938

“It’s ironic, because when it was last done in 1938, the unions were a major force in that constitutional convention. But now, I think, because there’s so much anti-union sentiment and attacks on civil servants, or public workers, and their benefits, that people think there’s a lot to lose, myself included,” says Kathy Fiero, president of the Voorheesville Teachers Association.

The gains of the 1938 convention were pointed out to Korn, who said, “I wasn’t alive in 1938 … So, I can’t speak to the ’38 convention, at all. What I can tell you is, that’s a pretty big risk to take if you don’t know who the delegates are going to be, and it’s open-ended, and big money from corporate interests — from out-of-state corporate interests — come flowing into New York.”

Fiero also says outside money would have too much influence on the convention.

“I think if we look at what is happening nationally with special interests, and how money plays into the elections and the influence that it has,” said Fiero. “Part of it, through Citizens United, it’s just a crazy amount of money that’s being pumped into our electoral system, and it’s hard to combat that. And if you have a special interest that has an agenda, they could really change the lives of many people.”

It was pointed out to Fiero that the teachers’ union is a special interest, and she responded, “It is. It’s not as well financed as the Koch brothers … Unions certainly are politically active, but they don’t hold the same sway as the NRA or the Koch Brothers or some of these other groups.”

Asked if unions are advocating against the convention because of a fear of losing what they have, she said: “If you’ve followed what’s been going on in education in the past eight to 10 years, I mean, it’s been mostly negative. From teacher evaluations, to the Common Core, to anti-union sentiment, to now we have the idea being floated that you don’t even have to be certified to be able to teach.”

She said she didn’t have exact statistics, but said enrollment in education classes has plummeted at The College of Saint Rose’s and the University at Albany.

“The decline in teachers education programs has been nationwide, certainly not just at Saint Rose and SUNY,” says Margaret T. McLane, Ph.D., interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of the Thelma P. Lally School of Education at The College of Saint Rose. She says the decline, while in part, might be because of negative perception of teachers and unions, it’s also been fueled by the economy.

She says layoffs that happened in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, meant fewer jobs for teachers, and fewer jobs for graduates. But in the past two years, she said, interest in education programs has increased.

The Enterprise asked Fiero if the outcome of the Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees would be a good reason to hold a constitutional convention.

In Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court is considering overturning a ruling from 1977 that lets public-sector unions collect fees from workers who aren’t members.

Called  “agency fees,” they pay for union representation on certain matters, like pay.

By not allowing unions to collect agency fees, the Supreme Court would allow public-sector unions to die a slow death.

Fiero acknowledged that the Janus decision could be a problem but she doesn’t trust how the convention would be chosen and run to remedy it. “If I had trust in the process, which I don’t, because the way the delegates are going to be chosen and the money that is going to be poured into that is, again, going to make a group of people, primarily senate people,” the deciders, she said.

“Politics makes strange bedfellows”

Korn says the New York State United Teachers is “part of a very large and diverse coalition. We’ve all heard the cliché: ‘Politics makes strange bedfellows.’ But this is certainly the first time that NYSUT and the AFL-CIO has worked so closely with the Conservative Party, and the state chapter of the National Rifle Association.” There are more than 100 groups in this coalition, representing a broad swath of New Yorkers from every ideological and political viewpoint, he says.

New Yorkers Against Corruption has over 140 “strange bedfellows” listed on its website, which are in opposition to the constitutional convention, including: The Adirondack Council, the New York State Conservative Party, the Council of Churches, Citizen Action New York, Environmental Advocates of New York, Equality New York, the New York State AFL-CIO, the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans, New York State Professional Fire Fighters, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Planned Parenthood Empire States Acts, Right to Life, and the New York Republican State Committee

Jordan Marks, of New Yorkers Against Corruption, says his group is nonpartisan. He says, “It’s almost every party; it’s Republican and Democrat, and Conservative. It’s people that care about economic justice, groups that care about reproductive health … It runs the gamut.”

But not all coalitions are created equally.

“In analyzing coalition politics, it's important to distinguish between the core players and those along for the ride. The recent Politico article on the last round of campaign-finance disclosures provides strong evidence — consistent with other states — that the core of the “no” coalition are the government unions and that many of the other groups are along for the ride.

“There are exceptions, but this is a useful starting point for analysis,” writes Snider in an email to the Enterprise.

As of the October filing deadline, a running total of funds shows that New Yorkers Against Corruption has raised $1.3 million. Its largest contribution of $250,000 is from Service Employees Union International Local 1199. The AFL-CIO organization of unions contributed $155,000; and New York State United Teachers union, $122,000.

The New York People’s Convention, a pro-convention group, shows a running total of $350,390, and is almost entirely funded by Bill Samuels, a long-time good-government activist, who has spent $344,000 on the “yes” campaign.

The Committee for a Constitutional Convention has raised $95,655, in smaller donations — of $500, $1,000, $2,000, and a few of $5,000.

“The bottom line is that group-coalition politics has a quid pro quo element in the sense that I'll support you on your really important issues if you'll support me on my really important issues, the result being that we'll both gain through mutual exchanges of support. This helps explain why the “no” campaign starts off with dozens of group allies on Day 1 whereas the “yes” campaign must painstakingly develop alliances group by group (and usually without much of value to offer potential allies),” Snider writes.

The individuals who make up the coalitions are more nuanced about the process, readily admitting that the ways things have been done no longer work. They are willing to try something else.

Richard Stack, the chairman of the Albany County Conservative Party, says, “I’m leaning, heavily towards ‘yes.’”

“As far as the convention goes, to me personally, as a Conservative, we’ve tried for many years to get initiative and referendums passed in the state of New York. Like California, if you get 250,000 signatures, the voters decide on issues. The legislature has stonewalled us for 20 years on the issue … All of this delay and feet-dragging that goes on with our legislators is all done to disenfranchise our voters,” says Stack, asserting that legislators don’t want to let the public have a say on the issues.

“It’s one thing I like about California — I don’t like a lot — but I do like the fact that they do have propositions, and it goes out to the voters and the voters pass those propositions,” he says.

Mark E. Grimm, a Republican member of Albany County Legislature and former Guilderland Town Board member, says the convention “offers hope that we can have some reform, which is what is really needed.”

“People say, ‘Isn’t there a risk they may do some crazy things?’ I say, ‘Yes, but my biggest concern with it is, the same career-politicians that are running the state may be the delegates, because it’s going to cost a lot of special-interest money to get elected,’” Grimm says.

“The one safety valve is the people have to approve everything. Whatever the convention does, it has to go to a vote to the people, so that’s a safeguard — and the people get to vote on the delegates. Now, it’s up to the people to say, ‘We don’t want the same political hacks; we want real people.’ That’s the choice of the voters, they have some skin in the game. And they have to say, ‘Let’s go with the people who are going to be real reformers.’”


— New York State Archives
Rules for the 1868 constitutional convention were outlined on a single page.


— New York State Archives
Article II of the second New York State Constitution of 1821 describes the qualifications to be a registered voter in the state. The vote was denied to 
any African-American man who did not meet stringent property qualifications. After the 1867-1868 convention, a revised constitution recommended the repeal of property requirements for African Americans to vote, which was rejected. The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1870, eliminated all property requirements for voters.


1967 convention

Marks, with New Yorkers Against Corruption, says all of these different groups oppose holding a constitutional convention for two reasons: The process, and what’s at stake.

The process is a mess and corruptible, he says. The way the most delegates are chosen — three delegates from each senate district — will favor the state senator already in office, he says.

What’s at stake are environmental protections, which is why groups like the Sierra Club and the Adirondack Council are part of the coalition, he says, and he says labor unions are concerned about workers’ rights being lost as well as their modest pensions.

At New York’s last convention, in 1967, eighty percent of the delegates were part of the political class, the insiders, and that would happen with a convention this time, Marks says.

Korn made the same claim as Marks: “What we do know is the last time there was a convention, it was dominated by political insiders. More than 80 percent of the delegates in the 1967 convention were elected leaders,” or political insiders — legislative staff, judges, lobbyists.

Of the 186 delegates — 98 Democrats, 84 Republicans, 3 Liberals, and 1 vacancy — to the 1967 convention: 46 had a background in public service, which excluded party or elected office; 37 were sitting state legislators or judges; 33 were locally elected officials; 29 were former state legislators or judges; 22 were party leaders; 4 were labor union officials; 4 were academics; and 11 had backgrounds described as “other.”

The 1967 convention was, in fact, the most — small “d” —  democratic convention to have taken place to that point. Before a 1964 Supreme Court decision changed it, senatorial districts were based on land. Senatorial districts, more or less, consisted of existing-county lines — regardless of population, a system that heavily favored rural (Republican) districts.

For hypothetical example: A district in Manhattan with 100,000 residents would have had the same representation in the Senate as a district in rural upstate New York with 20,000 residents.

This wholly-undemocratic system of apportioning districts was deemed unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1964. In its place, a system of senatorial districts was set up based on population.

Strictly-speaking, the 1967 convention was the first where the will of people had been heard. And they chose leaders they wanted.

The problem of the 1967 convention was not the day jobs of the delegates; it was a higher power, more ecclesiastical.

A constitutional denomination

In 1875, Congressman James Blaine proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would prohibit states from funding religious education, which failed. Eventually, three-quarters of the states passed some kind of “baby-Blaine” amendment.

For New York, it was the 1894 convention that would pass its own Blaine Amendment.

The move was seen as anti-Catholic, the predominant purveyors of religious education. The church chose to remain quiet, for fear of putting funding of Catholic-run hospitals and charities at risk.

By 1967, white-flight had left urban-Catholic congregations hurting for funding. And New York City Archbishop Cardinal Spellman — nicknamed the “Powerhouse,” who, at one time, had been tasked by President Franklin Roosevelt to establish a diplomatic relationship with the Vatican, in the years before World War II — began to look at the public coffers as a way to keep parochial schools open. He set his sights on repealing the Blaine Amendment.

New York had 17.94 million residents, the state’s dioceses: New York, Syracuse, Brooklyn, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville, and Albany, had an estimated 6.6 million Catholics. The Catholic vote was formidable enough that, in 1967, Cardinal Spellman could wield it like a cudgel.

A majority of the delegates had announced their support for repeal of the Blaine amendment before the convention started. In spite of that, the debate surrounding the Blaine Amendment was the most contentious of the convention; 14 alternative or compromise amendments would be deliberated before the original proposal passed, 132 to 49.

Travia — through his hand-picked chairman (who was a delegate from the same district that sent Travia to the convention) on the Committee on Presentation — made an unprecedented decision to send the voters one large, all-encompassing proposal to vote up or down instead of breaking them up into smaller groups so voters could decide on a few different issues — as had happened in every convention that preceded 1967.

Travia had believed the Blaine Amendment would ensure strong enough Catholic turnout, and the whole package would sail through. It was also thought that aggression towards the Blaine Amendment could be blunted because voters would have other proposals they would want to see passed.

He was buoyed in this belief because the Catholic Church has signaled strong support for an all-encompassing proposal, and Cardinal Spellman had expresses a willingness to campaign for its passage.

When the convention closed, Republicans immediately voiced their opposition to proposal; as did the Conservative and Liberal parties, The League of Women Voters, the New York State Chamber of Commerce, the NAACP, the Empire State Federation of Teachers, the State Congress of PTAs, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Civil Liberties Union. Most of the state’s newspapers voiced opposition as well.

A few influential groups came out in support of the proposal, most notably, the AFL-CIO.

Nearly 3.5 million New Yorkers voted against, and about 1.3 million voted for the proposed new constitution on Nov. 7, 1967.  

“We want the best People in the room”

Those who favor a constitutional convention say the “strange bedfellows” opposing the convention are part of a pact to keep the status quo.

“We have been besieged by corruption and dysfunction from Albany for more than two decades now. And the legislature and the powers that be in Albany have shown no desire, whatsoever, to clean up their own house. And that is why the people of New York have to take the power into our own hands and do it ourselves,” says Morgan Pehme.

Since at least 1986, New York has been the most corrupt state in the country, according to Politifact.

From 2006 to 2015, there were 28 identified corruption cases dealing with state officials in New York. The number of cases is 30, if you include 2005. Pennsylvania had the second most corruption cases with 24, and New Jersey was third with 12.

“We want it to be a true people’s convention … We will support citizen-legislators across the state…but above all, we want the best people in the room, and that is not what we have in Albany, right now. This notion that it will be the same forces in Albany that will be at the convention, well, if that’s the case, then why are all the leaders of the legislature so adamantly opposed to the convention?” asks Pehme.

“The reason they are is because this mechanism was put in place to bypass the governor, to bypass the legislature, and put the power into the hands of the people. And that is why it’s so threatening to all the special interests, and lobbyists, in Albany,” he says.

“That’s why, across the political spectrum, the people who have the juice in Albany have teamed up in cynical alliance to shut down the opportunity for the people to have their voice heard,” says Pehm.

“There are so many bipartisan, nonpartisan issues that the people of New York agree upon. This last session in Albany, we were driving an environmental bill of rights. This idea that New Yorkers should have clean drinking water and fresh air,” which polls at 70 to 75 percent, he says. “It was sunk in Albany because one group stepped forward, that has disproportionate power in the legislature — the Business Council — because they opposed it, we couldn’t even get a hearing on our amendment in the Senate.

Zack Hutchins, the director of communications for The Business Council of New York State, says his organization has not taken a position on the constitutional convention.

“This is the problem — this is the dynamic — that’s at play in Albany. Special-interest groups punch well above their weights. And, because of campaign contributions and the influence they wield in Albany, they’re the one’s setting the agenda,” Pehme says,

“Ninety-seven percent of our legislators get re-elected — most of them never even have a primary. In this election [the constitutional convention], you would have 204 open-seat races, which allows you to have greater competition,”

Between 1777 and 1870, 60 percent of legislators in an average legislative session were first-termers. “Beginning in the late nineteenth century, legislative turnover dramatically declined, with the proportion of State Senate first-termers dropping from 67 percent in the 1870s to 10 percent in the 1980s,” according to Snider.

From 2005 to 2013, over 96 percent of New York State Legislature incumbents were re-elected.

Guilderland’s Grimm says, “The powers-that-be are doing well at the state government; they don’t want to change anything at all. Politicians talk about reforms all the time; they don’t want reform. The status quo is serving their interests — they are the status quo. Of course, there’s a lot of powerful interests that don’t want any change, at all; they’re doing quite well. But is the average New York citizen really benefiting from state government? You’d have to be crazy to say ‘yes’ to that question.

“These are all interests that have a political say now,” Grimm asserted, adding that the people who have a say now “are very reluctant to try something else. This is a risk to the status quo, and the people in the status-quo community don’t want to risk that.”

Grimm says there’s a risk in not acting. He says, “That risk is, we are going to have the same old decline in New York that we’ve had for the past 40 years. Democrat, Republican — it hasn’t mattered. We’ve been in decline for 40 years because the people in power have continued to do things their way. And is that ever going to change? It’s going to take something significant, like a convention.”

Art Chang, founder of The Sanctuary State Project, and co-chairman of Citizens Union campaign for a constitutional convention, singles out the State Senate as a place where progressive legislation goes to die.

The State Assembly “has actually passed, virtually, every single type of legislation that would be consistent with the beliefs of our group. But the State Senate has blocked those — repeatedly,” Chang says.

Some of those assembly-passed bills that died in the senate include: A bill that would make New York a sanctuary state; a Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act replacement that would protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigrants in New York State; a carbon-emissions reduction bill that would make New York State the national leader in carbon-emissions reductions; and a women’s reproductive-health act.

“The weakness of our democracy allows senators to play power politics, because they don’t fear retribution from the voters. And specifically, I’m referring to the IDC [Independent Democratic Conference], the group of eight Democrats who caucus with the Republicans and they use it as a cynical means for holding legislation up in return for their own personal power,” says Chang.

“Right now, if you go along strict party lines, there is a one-member superiority, technically, for the Democrats, and the IDC upends all of that.”

Chang says, “The ‘no’ vote is claiming the Koch brothers, and the Mercers, and other rightwing interests, will come in and take over and hijack this convention.” There is no evidence to that assertion, he says.

“Certainly, Citizens United allows them to spend independently; those expenditures must be disclosed in New York State. The fact that this convention would last for 12, or maybe 18, months would certainly make any investment by outside forces relatively inefficient as compared to other things they could invest in, says Chang.

“I want to point out two things: This is a defense of the status quo politics. This is a defense of backroom negotiations; currying long-time favor with legislators who the folks on the “no” side who can expect to do their bidding, or at least not surprise them with things that they don’t like.”

The Oct. 6 poll from Siena shows that on Election Day, 44 percent of registered voters plan to vote “yes” to support a constitutional convention, while 39 percent plan to vote “no,” and 17 percent did not know how they would vote or had no opinion.  

In that same poll, 49 percent of respondents said that had heard “nothing” about the vote to hold a constitutional convention, and another 24 percent said that they had heard “not very much.”

On Election Day, 73 percent of the electorate — if the numbers from the Oct. 6 poll hold — will make a decision on an issue that, admittedly, they know little to nothing about.


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