New Yorkers will be asked if the state should hold a Constitutional convention.

Vote “NO” — Let’s not give the power brokers in Albany a chance to overhaul the NYS Constitution

By Esmeralda Simmons

You don’t have to search far to find a New Yorker who believes the current New York State government in Albany is dysfunctional. Numerous reports of widespread government corruption and a lack of shared power are just two frequent critiques. This Election Day, Nov 7, 2017, voters will have to decide if they want to give these Albany bosses even more power than they’ve had in the last 20 years. The Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, CUNY encourages Black New Yorkers to vote NO on the Constitutional Convention.

Every 20 years, New York voters must decide whether or not to hold a convention to change the New York State Constitution—a phenomenon known as “Con Con.” While Con Con isn’t the only method to amend the Constitution, it is certainly one of the most drastic and it is the only method that is triggered by New York voters. This is particularly important in today’s political environment.  

Currently, our State Constitution affords greater protections than the US Constitution does in several significant areas. These protections include important state constitutional mandates, like: care for the needy; voting rights protections; basic educational standards; protections for the environment; and, public workers’ rights. When all of these issues are embattled on the national front, why open a route to disrupt these rights and protections in our state? If New Yorkers vote yes to Con Con, then each of these issues is up for grabs—by a process controlled by those same members of the dysfunctional Albany government. Do not give Albany bosses the power to overhaul all or parts of the State Constitution.  Especially since there is a better option to amend the Constitution in a way that protects our most vulnerable populations.

The process for managing the convention is also skewed toward disempowering many New Yorkers. First, Con Con delegates would be elected based on current State Senate districts — the same politically gerrymandered districts that the Center for Law and Social Justice fought against in 2011. Those State Senate districts are heavily favored toward upstate voters at the expense of New York City voters, majority of whom are people of color. In addition, the IDC member senators who hold the balance of power in the Senate, joined with conservative Senate representatives to control that legislative body.  We should expect little or no progressive initiatives to be passed.

Second, there is no limit to the amount of lobbying money that can be poured into the process by giant corporations, rich and powerful lobbying interests like privately–run charter schools businesses, and those who seek to suppress voting rights in New York State. Limitless corporate lobbying dollars and donations are legal since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. This money has been destabilizing democracy in Congress and state governments due to the heavy influence of large political contributions. New Yorkers should not open up the State Constitution to these unelected, non-voter forces.

Third, there are no restrictions on which parts of the Constitution a Con Con would overhaul. Literally, every New York State Constitution based protection could be revised, rewritten or removed. And even worse, there are no structures for how the convention will operate or any limits on how long the convention will be in existence.

Many progressive organizations like the NY ACLU, the Sierra Club, Citizen Action, the Alliance for Quality Education and a host of labor unions are urging you to vote “NO.”

We want change in New York State, but not through a process that is so clearly flawed.  On Election Day, November 7, 2017, vote “NO” on Con Con!

Esmeralda Simmons is the founder and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College.

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