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Support Fades For Constitutional Convention In NY

A voting booth

A new poll finds waning support for the holding of a constitutional convention in New York. The issue is on the ballot in November.

The Siena College poll finds that enthusiasm for a constitutional convention has dropped since the summer, with more people now saying they would vote against it, although a plurality still backs the idea.  Spokesman Steve Greenberg says while 44 percent of registered voters say they’d vote "yes", down one percentage point from 45 percent in early September, 39 percent say they would vote no, up six points from 33 percent who were against the proposal a month ago.

Greenberg says voters are “virtually evenly divided” over whether the conventions would be a “waste of time and money”, with 45 percent saying “yes", and 45 percent saying “it’s a once in generation opportunity” to make big changes.

Every twenty years New Yorkers get to decide whether to hold a constitutional convention.  The last time they agreed to have one, in the 1960’s, voters ultimately rejected the convention’s recommended changes.

The last time there was a successful convention was in the 1930’s.

Greenberg says the survey also found, though, that there is wide support of issues that could be taken up at a convention, including rights for transgendered New Yorkers, term limits of legislators, and campaign finance reform.

“There is overwhelming support for a variety of issues,” Greenberg said.

The constitutional convention does have supporters, but they are not well funded. Opponents include many unions, who fear a convention could revisit some basic worker rights, like the right to collective bargaining, as well as Second Amendment advocates who fear a constitutional convention might limit the right to possess guns. They are distributing lawn signs and using social media, including an online ad. It portrays the convention a “multi-million dollar boondoggle” funded by taxpayers.

“It would give Albany politicians and special interest groups an opportunity to rewrite the New York constitution to serve their own interests,” a female narrator intones.

Despite the ad’s claims that “Albany politicians” would run the show, no major state political leader is advocating for the convention. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie speaking about it earlier this year, even echoed the concerns of the opponents.

“We should be very, very careful in exposing the constitution to the whims of someone from outside the state who could decide to spend millions of dollars to put forth a position,” Heastie said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has said in the past that he supports to idea, and even put $1 million into his 2016 budget proposal to lay the groundwork for the event. But the state Legislature failed to approve the money, and in 2017, the governor dropped his request.

Cuomo said over the summer that he has concerns about backing a convention without reforming the way the delegates are chosen, so that they would be independent and not controlled by the Legislature.

And State Senate Leader John Flanagan has said he prefers changing the state’s constitution issue by individual amendment. Under that process, two consecutively elected legislatures approve a measure, which then goes before voters in the next general election cycle.

“We have a mechanism, in my opinion, already in place,” said Flanagan. “And I’m comfortable with the way that works.”

This year there are two such proposals on the ballot, including one to allow a judge to strip convicted state lawmakers of their pensions.

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