Twenty years ago, former Governor Mario Cuomo eloquently spoke out for the need for a State Constitutional Convention. From overhauling state ethics laws to streamlining our judiciary to ending gerrymandering to touching political third rails like legalizing marijuana, Cuomo gave a passionate case to improving the way New York operates.
But voters rejected the idea and because they are required to weigh in on the issue every 20 years, we are taking up the question again next Tuesday. But there is no Mario Cuomo taking up the cause this time and a broad array of entrenched political interests is fighting against a state convention, mongering in fear and false facts about a real chance to go back to the drawing board.
By claiming that pensions are at risk, public-sector unions are pushing their members to vote no on a convention. Never mind that we, the voters, would pick the delegates to any convention and that we, the voters, ultimately would decide on whether or not to accept any or all amendments to our constitution.
A telling moment in the debate came on Monday when WNYC (full disclosure: where my wife works as a reporter) brought together a panel of young activists who are trying to overhaul the city’s political machinery. All four of them said they supported the convention without batting an eye.
The digging of a moat and pulling up of the drawbridge is the apt symbol of our times; if you really think the State Legislature has the stomach or the brains to fix the dysfunctional system that’s spawned many of them, then vote no. I think it’s worth trying to fix a broken engine rather than just trying to squeeze a few more miles out of New York’s clunker of a car.