That’s the question that will be on every ballot in a week’s time in New York.
Every twenty years, NY voters have the opportunity to vote on holding a constitutional convention. If a majority of voters vote yes, each state senate district will elect three delegates to the constitutional convention (in addition, several are nominated to represent state-wide interests). The delegates will hash out changes — anything from a few words added, removed or updated all the way to a full re-write of the entire document. Those changes are then brought before voters again at the ballot box, and if a majority support it, those changes are ratified.
While California ballot propositions technically could do something like this, it’s rare to have the opportunity to hold a convention and take a holistic approach to updating the constitution of a state for the 21st century.
Given the process, I am strongly in favor of holding a convention.
I think one of the real challenges of politics in 2017 is the lack of interest in making transformational changes that dramatically improves the lives of Americans. Our ambitions as a nation are constantly getting crushed by small considerations at the expense of the big picture. Whether it is transportation, or housing, or health care or any number of other policy areas, we just no longer think big.
That’s certainly how local politicians see it. The ballot question is one of the stranger politics in New York. Unions are uniformly opposed to holding a convention — there are palpable concerns that are probably justified that the text of an updated constitution might provide the state with ways to avoid its extraordinary pension obligations.
Likewise, there are many politicians on the right who are opposed, because they fear the constitutional convention will have a bunch of liberals run amok and try to enshrine deeply progressive positive rights into the document, such as the right to a job, health care, or housing.
There is also a weird politics in Albany around politicians who simultaneously suggest that holding a convention can increase the chance for some sort of ethics reform in NY, and those opposed saying that Albany already has the ability to do this, and a convention is likely to be just as corrupt as the rest of the state.
All of those concerns are valid. But they are so small. Why can’t the document be reformed and completely transform the state? What is the harm in holding a convention if voters have to approve the changes anyway? Is the status quo really so great? Why not see what a committee of representatives from around the state can hash out?
I think we have a huge opportunity to actually try to make something of this opportunity. So vote yes, and then let’s see what we can do if we can — for once — ask foundational questions about the government and how it serves us.
Photo by Wally Gobetz used under Creative Commons