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Con-Con Ballot Question Goes Down In New York

NYS Capitol
NYS Capitol

The ballot proposition on whether to hold a state Constitutional Convention was soundly defeated in  Tuesday’s election. But a second question of whether to strip pensions from convicted lawmakers was approved.

New Yorkers passed on a once in two decades chance to hold a Constitutional Convention, voting in overwhelming numbers against it. Opponents, led by the state’s labor unions, successfully argued that the constitution already contains a number of rights, including several labor protections, and that it might be dangerous to reopen the entire document at a convention that they said could be hijacked by special interests.

The opposition, which also include pro- and anti-abortion rights groups, Second Amendment advocates and the state’s Conservative Party, spent over $1 million running ads and distributing lawn signs in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Unions claimed credit for the outcome; the AFL-CIO called it a “tremendous victory” for organized labor.

The state’s teachers union, New York State United Teachers, said in a statement that its members helped prevent “what would have been a taxpayer-funded boondoggle.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which also was against the convention, said voters acted “wisely” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement that “a con-con would have made our state’s hard-won constitutional rights and protections vulnerable to "repeal and replace" at a time when the Trump administration threatens our rights and civil liberties.”

Supporters expressed disappointment. The League of Women Voters’ Jennifer Wilson said the League is “disheartened.”

“A constitutional convention would have allowed us to circumvent our gridlocked legislature and pass meaningful ethics and voting reforms,” Wilson said.

The League says state lawmakers who were also again the constitutional convention, now have to step up to the plate and enact real reforms to combat corruption and improve voting access, among other things.

A second proposition, which allows a judge to strip the pensions from public officials convicted of felonies, was approved by a nearly 2-1 margin.

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who brought corruption cases against both former legislative leaders, and charged nine of Governor Cuomo’s former associates with offenses including bribery and bid rigging, weighed in on Twitter with a one word tweet : “huzzah.”

A third proposition that would make minor changes to  land use in the Forever Wild Adirondack and Catskill preserves was too close to call.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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