Question One on the statewide ballot this Election Day is pretty simple: Should New York hold a Constitutional Convention? But the answer isn’t easy.
If the “yes” vote wins, the state faces a year of primary- and general-election voting to choose 2014 Con-Con delegates. The convention would meet at the state Capitol in 2019, aiming to agree on amendments for the voters to consider that November.
Pretty much every vested interest is against it, as a threat to their perks and power — which would at least force them to spend cash and energy battling to defend those advantages.
That leaves them pointing to some ridiculous supposed perils. In fact, no Con-Con is going to gut constitutional protections for New York’s parks and wildlands — and if it did, the voters would reject the change.
Yet a convention might aim to increase special-interest power — by trying to write (more) sweetheart treatment into the state Constitution. Certainly, the same forces that have rendered the Legislature so corrupt and dysfunctional would go all-out next year striving for the same power at the convention.
For that matter, sincere reformers could embrace changes we think pernicious, such as taxpayer funding of campaigns, a k a welfare for politicians.
By and large, those pushing for a “yes” vote recognize the risks, but argue that a convention is the best chance to reduce the bipartisan degradation (including plenty of “legal” corruption) of New York politics.
And they’re right that it’s utterly impossible to see the Legislature agreeing to any real oversight of its members’ ethics, or any reform of all the arcane laws that empower the political establishment — such as the ridiculous procedure for getting on the ballot, the rules that prevent you from voting in a party primary unless you enrolled in it a year earlier and the setup that has county bosses effectively choosing who gets to become a judge.
But getting a Con-Con that would truly drain the Albany swamp requires a lot more than just winning a “yes” from a majority of voters Nov. 7. As we noted above, the alligators and the swamp rats will be out in force to elect their delegates.
And the powers that be have plenty of stockpiled cash and vast organizations already up and running to do that — and their candidates will start with far more name recognition, too.
The pro-Con-Con crew argues that voters know that state government needs fixing, and so would opt to elect real reformers, not insiders. But if it were that simple, New Yorkers wouldn’t keep re-electing the same hacks to the Legislature year in and year out.
Then, too, most people won’t bother to hit the polls this Election Day — and only a fraction of those who do will actually bother with the ballot questions.
Which means that if you vote “yes” on Question One, you need to commit to following through: to taking the time to identify the real reformers running in your district — and then helping them get elected, by persuading family and neighbors to join the cause.
Without that serious civic engagement, a Constitutional Convention will wind up being run by the devils you already know.