Constitutional Convention

Feb 2, 2017 by

A mantis shrimp is a beautiful, spectacularly colored  little creature with the most astonishing visual acuity in nature. It’s only a few inches long and is common. Sounds like a perfect candidate for your home aquarium. But it’s not. Because it is a voracious predator and is so powerful that it must be placed in a tank within a tank because it can stab with force that will break right through the thick glass. It’s penetrating capacity is comparable to a bullet.

But it’s still attractive. So is the idea, if not fully explained, of a New York State Constitutional Convention. But if voters hide under a rock of complacency or are lured by its surface appeal and cast their ballots in November in favor of the option of holding one, there may be no escaping a dire fate.

The New York State Constitution requires that every 20 years, voters decide whether to amend or revise it. This sounds like a clarion call for democracy in action, but it doesn’t offer anything unique except for undue risks. The opportunity for such a convention is redundant and superfluous, because there are other simple and straightforward means of achieving results during ordinary legislative sessions.

A Constitutional Convention is not a guarantor of freedom. Rather it is a path to its decimation.

A catalogue of people and organizations who are pushing for a constitutional convention reads like a rogues gallery of antagonists to organized labor and middle class security generally. Most of them are hostile to Workers Compensation, the right to unionize, workers’ environmental and other workplace protections and pension benefits that have been in place for generations and on which millions of New Yorkers rely.

The extravagantly funded, often by donors shrouded in secrecy, advocates for the Convention want government to abandon public schools and renounce by policy the safety net for the indigent, sick and genuinely needy.

There is a non-coincidental overlapping of these extremists, who are adept at good-government slogans ( or evil euphemisms like “right to work”) for their ironic purposes, and the voices who disparage government from playing any role or responsibility to maintaining the progress of social and economic evolution.

The range of damage that could be done by a constitutional convention far exceeds what I have listed and indeed what can be predicted. It could sweep away like a tidal wave the stability of millions of New Yorkers in the public and private sectors.

The backers of a constitutional convention are the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing in that they bleat about exercising the machinery of liberty but their actual desire is an ideological lust to erode the fair guarantees tendered by the existing constitution.

The cost of a constitutional convention is estimated at a low-ball figure of $300 million. But reckoned in a currency far dearer than dollars, the toll could be astronomically higher.  It would entail the election of 200 unvetted delegates including party leaders and other human mantis shrimp in 2018, the convention itself in 2019 when it would publish its proposals for subsequent action by voters that year.

But these rocky steps and the dangers of unforeseeable complications of a constitutional convention can be avoided in November of this year by the voters if they reject the holding of a constitutional convention. That’s what happened in 1977 and 1997 after the previous ones were recognized as total failures not only procedurally but conceptually.

The fateful vote is almost ten months away.  But right now is not a moment too soon to solidify our determination to kill the looming monster of a constituional convention in the cracked aquarium of Albany.

Ron Isaac

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