It’s November. Baseball season is over. Thanksgiving approaches. Elections are upon us. Though many New Yorkers may feel that this is yet another election with little at stake, that could not be further from the truth. In a democracy, elections matter. In a democracy, elections have consequences.
In New York on Nov. 7, we have elections for mayor, city comptroller and public advocate, as well as district attorney, City Council, judgeships, and even a state senator. Outside the five boroughs, New Yorkers are choosing county executives, mayors, municipal leaders, school boards and other small yet nevertheless important positions. Some are hotly contested and others are unchallenged. All will, in one way or another, determine the future of our community. Even in races that seem pre-determined, the level of voter engagement will set the timbre of the next election cycle, one that will determine voting districts, control of the House and Senate, and leadership of the state. Every vote counts.
However, all New York voters, regardless of location, will turn over their ballot on Nov. 7 and find an extremely important ballot measure before them: “Shall New York hold a constitutional convention?”
In an era of partisan gridlock, questionable ethics, well-financed special interests and populism, a constitutional convention seems like an extraordinary opportunity. Many New Yorkers – especially younger voters and those fed up with the status quo and legislative failures – salivate at the opportunity to circumvent institutional structures and politics to achieve long-desired reforms. On its face, this could be an opportunity to directly edit our state’s most fundamental document of values, priorities and protections.
Under normal circumstances, a constitutional convention may seem like an enticing opportunity. However, the uncertainty of our current political climate makes this ballot measure among the greatest legislative threats in recent memory to Local 802 and other labor unions as well as to hardworking New Yorkers. Though there are many good reasons to hold a convention, the risks simply outweigh the rewards. New Yorkers must vote no on proposition #1.
RISK VS. REWARD
Though a constitutional convention could theoretically provide regular voters with an opportunity to actually improve the state constitution, in reality the convention process is opaque, unwieldy, unpredictable and susceptible to corruption. The hope that voters would gain a political voice directly at the legislative drafting table is naive, at best.
While many would agree that there are values that would be good to include in our constitution – ethics reform, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, to name a few – there are equal numbers of policies that many New Yorkers would find abhorrent or destructive that could be introduced as well.
Additionally, our state constitution currently includes protections that we rely upon every day that would be at risk. The right to a free public education, environmental protections in the Adirondacks, the right to join a union and collectively bargain for fair pay and treatment, the right to workers’ compensation and prohibitions on reducing public pensions could quickly find themselves on the proverbial chopping block.
Meanwhile, special interests could attempt to make New York a right-to-work state, strengthen restrictions on immigrants and undocumented workers, enshrine pro-employer and anti-worker laws, weaken gun safety protections or institute other policies that further our country’s current climate of xenophobia, misogyny, environmental denial, sexism and exploitation. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Reclaim New York, an organization that is pushing for the convention, is funded by the Mercer family, who also funds Steve Bannon’s various initiatives (including Breitbart News) and who is largely responsible for Betsy Devos’ appointment as secretary of education. If the convention were to happen, we should all expect hyper-partisan organizations across the country to flood Albany and New York with money, each pushing their own agenda at the expense of New Yorkers.
THE ONLY RULE IS THAT THERE ARE NO RULES
Sadly, the only rule of a constitutional convention is that until it begins, there are no rules. This should be alarming for New Yorkers and should leave us feeling far from assured that one of the most “progressive” states in the country would reject constitutional convention proposals that fail to align with our progressive values. Convention delegates would likely be selected from a pool of Albany insiders, lobbyists, lawyers and legislators, who not only would be responsible for proposing and voting on constitutional amendments but would also determine how they would be presented to voters for approval.
Could proposals be delivered in one giant package, forcing voters to vote for an entire slate of ideas, both good and bad? Yes. Could they gradually be delivered one at a time, requiring voters to return to the polls frequently? Sure. There are no rules. People start baking cookies with more of a plan than this, and a constitutional convention is a recipe for disaster.
Instead of holding a convention, New Yorkers should be holding our state legislators accountable at the voting booth. Our elected representatives should be expected to do their job: write, introduce and pass legislation that addresses the needs and concerns of New Yorkers. Those who fail should be replaced. That is what elections are for.
New Yorkers who don’t think there is anything worth voting for on Nov. 7 must reconsider. This election will have enormous repercussions for our lives, and if a convention process is started there is no telling where it will stop. Turn over your ballot and vote “no” on proposition #1.
A FINAL NOTE
Anyone still not convinced that it is worth voting on Nov. 7 should consider this: even if there are no contested races in your district, remember that this is the last election before 2018 midterms, which will not only serve as a bellwether for the current administration, but will also set the tone and momentum for the next round of redistricting. There is no more important factor determining the outcome of our elections – and by extension the realities of our legislative and political landscape – than our districting.