As many of you know, on Nov. 7, 2017, the citizens of New York will be asked whether a New York State constitutional convention should take place. I am arguing that the citizens of New York should consider voting “YES” to a statewide constitutional convention.
Every 20 years, New Yorkers vote “YES” or “NO” on a state constitutional convention, which circumvents the traditional legislative process. If you take a look around Long Island, you’ll most likely see a lot of “NO” bumper stickers. While it is clear that the “NO” side can outspend the “YES” side by a large margin, this does not mean that their argument has more merit. Career politicians are terrified of a constitutional convention, which is one of the biggest reasons why we should have a constitutional convention. Anything that scares politicians has to be some type of a shake-up in the status quo.
Living on Long Island my whole life, I can tell you people here are sick of the status quo. Town governments across the state of New York, especially those on Long Island, are full of crony politicians. One example of such is Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who surrendered to authorities on Oct. 20, 2016 after being charged with 13 counts related to extortion, bribery, fraud and obstruction. Another example is former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, who was charged with a slew of different crimes ranging from conspiracy to commit bribery to defrauding the government.
In addition to Long Island governments being populated by corrupt politicians, their communities are saddled with debts and deficits large enough to cause legitimate bankruptcy. Nassau County’s deficit is estimated to hit $53 million by the end of 2017, and Suffolk County’s is estimated to hit $38.4 million. However, Suffolk County’s deficit changes to $129.4 million if we do not count borrowing as revenue. Long Island residents are tired of our local politicians being re-elected every year and nothing changing for the better. Career politicians have been in their positions for too long to remember what it’s like to be a private citizen. The way to counterbalance this is to vote for a constitutional convention and work to elect delegates who will represent the will of the people. I understand that this is a daunting task, but this is the best way of draining the Albany swamp.
It must be said that the people of New York owe it to themselves to understand what they are voting for or against. In a constitutional convention scenario, citizen representatives would be elected by the people of the state. These representatives would head to Albany in 2019 and propose amendments to the state constitution. After all changes are suggested, the people of the state then get to vote on the proposed changes. If the people vote to keep the constitution the same, then nothing changes. Knowing this, I don’t see how voting for a constitutional convention puts anything at risk. Sure, it could end up doing nothing but costing the state millions of dollars. However, that is only if the voters let it get to that point.
A convention voted by the people of New York allows us to say that we tried to shake up the political atmosphere and light a fire under the pants of the career politicians who are becoming a bit too complacent for our liking. To be clear, my personal distaste for career politicians stems from the notion that eventually, politicians become jaded and unaware of what is transpiring on a day-to-day basis in their communities. This is especially relevant for politicians who do not live in their communities full-time (think New York state senators, U.S. senators, etc). Also, it is a well-established phenomenon that there is a positive correlation between the duration of a politician’s stay in power and the severity of influence that the establishment has on said politician. It becomes increasingly more difficult to deviate from party norms when the establishment promises protection and security. We see this across parts of the political spectrum, from John McCain to Hillary Clinton and many others.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this debate is the psychology behind why some people are pushing the “NO” option. It probably has to do with the notion that people are petrified of uncertainty. Though, I must ask: What is the worst that could happen? If the convention takes place, voters have the power to choose the delegates as well as any constitutional changes proposed by delegates. The delegates also have the ability to down-vote all proposed changes to the constitution, and if they decide to do so, the constitution would be unchanged. In this scenario, the state constitution would remain in tact just as it would if a convention was not held. When explained in this manner, it is clear that while both options have the potential to protect the constitution, the “YES” option allows for greater potential upside.
Speaking of upsides, one of the biggest potential upsides is the setting of term limits for elected officials. A large chunk of people are opposed to the idea of “career politicians.” If you could not tell from the tone of this article, I am not a fan of them either. A cap on how many terms legislators and other public officials can serve would prevent officials from becoming apathetic to the trials and tribulations of their constituents. You would think that officials would understand why term limits would be supported, but unfortunately it seems as though most politicians oppose term limits. The reality is that term limits for NYS senators and assemblymen would prevent career politicians from becoming entrenched in the political machine of New York State politics.
Another potential upside is the reworking of how the NYS legislature pushes unfunded mandates on local governments. Unfunded mandates strip local governments of valuable funding, and their eradication would benefit local governments greatly.
I hope that the voters of New York realize that the potential constitutional convention is not what they might think it is (or at least not what the “NO” camp might lead them to believe), and that there is potentially a lot to be gained from voting “YES.”
Steve Hromin is a senior business management and economics double major and the treasurer of the Stony Brook College Republicans.