Should New York vote to hold a constitutional convention?


August Zeidman, Features Editor

ry car in the school parking lot has a magnet urging the reader to vote ‘No’ on the state constitutional convention.  Why?  Because it puts the livelihoods of public servants—such as teachers—at risk.  New York is one of the few states that protects the pensions of employees in its state constitution, and this convention would make it easier for these regulations to be placed onto the chopping block.

​To understand why this would be so dangerous, it is important to understand how the convention works.  Three delegates are elected from each nstate Senate district (of which there are 63), and 15 statewide.  Anybody over eighteen can run to be a delegate.  These individuals, however, have a great amount of power to revise the State Constitution.  They have the authority to skip procedural hurdles within the state assembly, which might normally accompany such a major task.  Nevertheless, any changes must still be approved by voters.

​This is an inherently risky move because we are placing the livelihoods of so many in the hands of so few.  The entire reason that it is difficult to amend the constitution, whether state or national, is because amendments should only be made in times when it is necessary and by reaching a consensus among its constituents.

Although voters have the final say, they are granted this privilege only after everything is said and done.  The voters can decide to keep all of the new adjustments or revert to the original constitution.  There is no middle ground.

​The most prominent opposition to the convention has been led by the state’s labor unions in order to protect against the infringement of worker’s rights which, according to many New York politicians, should be weakened.  This would reduce the ability of state employees to save for retirement even after dedicating their lives to public service.  Additionally, state employees do not pay state or local social service tax for their guaranteed-for-life pensions in New York State.

These protections were revolutionary when they were written and still are so today.  Added to the constitution in 1938, the protections always have been and always will be highly controversial.  However, it is predicted that wealthy conservatives such as the Koch Brothers or even Donald Trump himself would spend millions to have fiery anti-union delegates elected.

Another major worry is that most of the delegates will end up being lobbyists representing special interest groups such as major industries and other big business, rather than the state as a whole.  This could end up hurting some of the financial regulations which are in place in New York to help prevent another 2008-style market crash.  Furthermore, many worry that these lobbyists will be elected simply to protect the status quo, which defeats the entire point of having the convention in the first place.  Overall, the potential for abuse is simply too great.

Having a democracy dominated by special interest groups is no real democracy at all.  Lobbyists represent corporations which are not representative of the people, are not residents of New York State, and do not deserve or receive the same civil and political protections that it is the duty of the state to provide for its citizens.  In 1967, 91% of delegates were some form of lobbyist or interest group representative.  As corporate politics have only expanded, it can be easily inferred that if this convention were to happen, it would be simply a tragedy for the state and all the individuals who depend on it.

New York has not had a convention since 1967.  However, it is not as outlandish as it may sound.  New Yorkers rejected a convention in 1997 as well, but based on polling there is a real possibility that it may go forth this year.  In order to protect the rights of New Yorkers who need the most help, it is necessary to vote against this measure and to encourage others such as parents or friends to do the same.

The current situation may not be perfect but the tedious system for amending the constitution is the right way to go to ensure the proper protection of New Yorkers.  The potential costs far outweigh the benefits in terms of likelihood here, so it is imperative to protect against this once in a generation proposal from going forth and allowing the liberties of New York to crumble.