New York State voters need many things to improve their quality of life. They want better-paying jobs, affordable housing to keep our young talent from fleeing to other states, better roads to keep us safe and solutions to other critical needs.
What New Yorkers do not need, however, is a constitutional convention.
A Nov. 7 ballot would start in motion the calling of a constitutional convention in 2019. Ballot amendments normally don’t get much attention, which is why this year voters should turn over their ballots and cast a no vote on a constitutional convention. Besides being costly, voters should know that the last thing the state needs is another political gathering that would look like a copy of a state legislative session.
There are two major ways to change our state constitution. One is by a required vote every 20 years to decide whether to call for such a meeting. The second is for the State Legislature to pass ballot amendments, which voters cast votes on. There have been only two successful constitutional conventions since 1894, and both were called when the nation was in crisis. There might be a lot of political angst today about how our leaders are dropping the ball, but there is no legitimate reason for a state convention in the next two years.
New York’s constitution is a pretty good document. It protects the right to privacy, bars discrimination, preserves the environment, supports a series of worker protections and ensures help for the needy through medical care, homelessness and educational opportunity.
Somehow well-meaning convention supporters think that in four months, a 200-page document will create a new New York, free from crime, corruption, dirty air, complex laws and burdensome taxes.
The system works! In the past 200 years, voters have amended the state constitution more than 200 times. All of those changes were made at the suggestion of the legislature.
The last vote on a convention for our state took place in 1997, and it was soundly defeated. At the time of that defeat, respected groups that would have favored holding a convention urged its defeat and suggested that the pro groups begin a 20-year campaign to create a real agenda so that future voters would have a choice of whether to vote up or down. Twenty years later, there has been no real educational campaign, just random calls for reform by the “yes” side.
In 1967, I was a member of the Assembly and attended the 1967 convention as an observer. I saw what a fruitless effort it was to get the leaders of the convention to do anything other than protect the status quo. But don’t take my word for it. The groups opposing a convention this year are about as diverse as you could imagine. The long list of opponents, to name a few, includes the Conservative Party, the right-to-life movement, Planned Parenthood, civil liberties unions, the Sierra Club, every major union and the Adirondack Council.
There are also plenty of other reasons why a convention will not be free of politics. A person who wants to run as an independent delegate needs 3,000 signatures to get on the ballot, which means that a lot more are needed to stand up to any challenge. If you run as a major party candidate, you need only 1,000 signatures. That means any candidate backed by a political party is heavily favored to win.
There is no doubt that our political climate is toxic. That is no reason to accept a bundle of vague political promises by supporters with a real risk that the outcome won’t be a disaster.
Jerry Kremer is a former State Assembly member and is the co-author of “Patronage, Waste and Favoritism: A Dark History of Constitutional Conventions.”
To read the full article on Newsday, click here.
By: Hon. Jerry Kremer
Every 20 years New York voters are asked to decide whether there should be a constitutional convention. The last time voters had a choice of whether to hold a new convention was in 1997 and the idea was rejected by a large margin. By law, if a convention is approved, there would be another vote in 2018 to elect delegates, who would serve in 2019. It is important that a vote for a new convention be defeated and there are plenty of reasons why…The last convention was in 1967. There were many ideas discussed but the majority were the same topics that the state legislature had been considering for many years. From personal experience, I was a visitor to the 1967 event and many of the delegates were elected officials who were anxious to get two public salaries in one year and it padded their pensions with little to show for it. There are many outside elite groups who are anxious for there to be a new convention. Some would like to abolish the State Senate and have a one-house legislature. Losing the influence of the Senate and its Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Huntington) would be a serious blow to Long Island. It would be good for New York City, but the suburbs have its own needs and we have to fight to protect them. We have some of the best public schools in our two counties who do a great job educating our children. Regrettably, there are a number of groups who are anxious to shift money away from public schools and spend it on charter schools only.
Our current constitution protects our state parks from over development. There are quite a few developers who are anxious to have the protections that are in the current constitution removed so that they can develop golf courses and luxury housing on precious parkland. All of the important environmental groups have announced their opposition to holding a convention. It is no secret today that the amount of money being spent in campaigns around the nation is mind-boggling. Unknown front groups get involved in local election issues and their dollars can influence the outcome of any election. Next year we will have statewide and Congressional elections, which will attract a lot of attention. While voters are concentrating on major contests, slates of convention delegates could be elected who have no stake in the future of Long Island and here is a simple statistic. In the past 100 years over 200 amendments have been adopted that were approved by the state legislature, without the need for a convention. As an example, this November voters will decide whether to take away the pensions of public officials who commit crimes related to their official position. The system does work and there is no need to spend $100 million on more on an event that is a carbon copy of what the current legislature does. This year more than ever your vote will make a big difference in the future of Long Island and our state.
The smart vote is a “No” vote on a Constitutional Convention.
Former Assemblyman Arthur “Jerry” Kremer is a well-known political figure on Long Island. He served in the State Assembly for 13 terms and headed the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He was the sponsor of many consumer laws including the Automobile Lemon Law. He is seen frequently on News 12 where he provides political commentary. He is a Trustee of Hofstra University and is involved with many local charities. He is a partner at the law firm of Ruskin Moscou Faltischek in Uniondale and is President of Empire Government Strategies.
To read the article on PBA on Patrol, click here.
Arthur ‘Jerry’ Kremer and Anthony Figliola, co-authors of Patronage, Waste, and Favoritism: A Dark History of Constitutional Conventions were recently featured in Newsday for discussing the ills of having a Constitutional Convention. This discussion took place in Melville on Tuesday, June 6th, 2017 at the Long Island Association. Jerry Kremer stated that NYS lawmakers have amended the state’s constitution 200 times in the past century, and are capable of addressing any major issues in Albany during the regular legislative session.
“The risks are too high. And I truly think there is no need for a constitutional convention” said Kremer. Anthony Figliola, Vice President of Empire Government Strategies agreed with this statement made by Kremer and stated that delegates will likely be hand-picked party leaders, rather than grass-roots activists. “It gives you another bite of the apple for anything not accomplished in the regular legislative session,” said Figliola.
To read the entire article on Newsday, click here.
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Speaking of political conventions, are we all getting excited for the next big one? I’m talking about—of course—the possibility of a constitutional convention. What? You hadn’t heard? The state constitution requires a ballot referendum every 20 years on whether to convene to debate changes to the state constitution. The next referendum is in November 2017, and if it passes, a constitutional convention would be scheduled for April 2019, with proposed changes to be voted on by New Yorkers that November.
If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking, what a waste of time and money, you are not alone. Already, naysayers are pointing out the cons of a ConCon. Last month, lobbyist and former Assemblyman Jerry Kremer stopped by the newsroom to give us chapter and verse (and a book he wrote on the subject) on why constitutional conventions will be the No. 1 issue next year and why they are an unnecessary boondoggle. “The system is legally rigged,” he said, sounding a bit like Donald Trump.
Kremer said ConCons have become opportunities for political parties to flex their muscles because they have the power to appoint the delegates who determine the issues that get voted on; for special interests to advance pet causes that couldn’t pass during a legislative session, giving lobbyists another opportunity to bill their clients; and for politicians to collect an extra paycheck and grow their staffs. The 1967 convention that cost $37 million would cost $300 million in today’s dollars.
And for what? There already exist ways to amend the constitution without the rigmarole of a convention. In 2013, voters approved a constitutional amendment to expand casino gambling.
But ConCons are not to be dismissed lightly. Kremer pointed out that the convention of 1894 had some consequential achievements: Delegates preserved the Adirondacks; Susan B. Anthony and her fellow suffragists highlighted women’s disenfranchisement; the Blaine Amendment passed, banning state money from funding parochial schools.
Convention supporters say it could address thorny issues that the legislature can’t or won’t address on its own—namely, anything that would reduce or enhance its power, like ethics or campaign finance reform.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year suggested he’d support a constitutional convention, saying Albany was “broken.” But unless he heeds calls to appoint nonpartisans as delegates, plus retired journalists to solicit ideas and moderate debates, a ConCon will not be worth the money spent putting on the show.