New York doesn’t need a repeat of 1967 convention
Should there be a Constitutional Convention? Some smart people like Professor Gerald Benjamin, my long time colleague and a senior top thinker on such things, believe there ought to be. I have my doubts. When we did this in 1967, the whole thing turned out to be a major boondoggle. Let me also further assure you that a constitutional convention will mean millions of taxpayer dollars down the toilet. Plus, the same denizens of the deep who are running our state politics would get to choose their own friends to run for positions as delegates and they’d vote to keep the same old, same old, self-serving rules in the new document.
The premise being advanced by some very good people is that the New York state Constitution is a rambling graveyard for material that ought to be in statute rather than in a Constitution. They are certainly right about that. There is no doubt that the Constitution needs changing but the process will be rigged from the start. People like Blair Horner, the lobbyist for the New York Public Interest Research Group and expert on all things state, point out that there are all kinds of provisions in the state Constitution that have been declared invalid by higher courts. Nevertheless, there they stay.
If we had a constitutional convention and if the delegates did the right things with the massive meandering document, we would all be better off. There might, for instance, be a provision like the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution for replacing the lieutenant governor when that need arose. We have all been witness to the chaos that can ensue when such a vacancy does occur and when the state’s number two elected official can’t be replaced. On the other hand, that could be done by just amending the Constitution right now.
I am here to guarantee you that the state’s best heeled and best funded special interest and lobbying groups will get their people elected. Even if the do-gooders who are pushing for a convention have their way and institute some kind of provision stipulating that legislators can’t run for the delegate positions, you’d have to be Mary Poppins not to believe that they all have a friend named “Louie” down the street who will do exactly what they are told when they are told to do it.
Not only that but every socio-political group will see this as an opportunity to get as much publicity for their causes as they can. The right-to-lifers will have a field day. The marijuana reform groups will get a lot of publicity, correctly insisting on our right to smoke weed and so on. It will be a huge diversion from the mess that is ruining the Empire State. Let’s face it, a small, morally corrupt clique has gotten hold of the leadership positions in the state Senate and is milking them for all they are worth, much like similar people did when they had the chance to improve the local schools.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea of improving the Constitution but I am old enough to understand just what is going to happen. I am writing this because for the first time in a long time, the voters are signaling through public opinion polls that they have had enough and want change. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I understand. I’m with them but they are naive. The people who wield power, whether they are called Senators or Assemblymen, do not give it up easily and when the last gavel has been banged, the same folks who were on top before such a convention will be running things when the smoke clears.
Of course, such a convention would be good for Albany. The restaurants and hotels would love it. But you might as well have a circus as have a sham convention that, in the end, will surely be nothing more than a reflection of the present power structure. It will give some the excuse for even more hanky panky, if you follow my drift. That’s why you will see people like some of the very miscreants who are running the sate Senate call for it as well as many in the minority parties in the Legislature who have been screwed to the wall by the majority. They have nothing to lose. I think we may just get a convention, but if it goes like it did in 1967, the taxpayers will be the losers. Too bad.
Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/27/09