When will it be "safe"?
We have heard the same arguments to vote no under Presidents Carter, Clinton, and now President Trump. When will it be "safe" to engage in our civic responsibility to bring participatory democracy to the public stage in New York State?
Fear of legitimate disagreement and debate on important public policy issues facing New York State as it approaches the millennium does not dissuade Citizens Union, a non-partisan organization which has championed informed participatory democracy for one hundred years. The risk of opening up the proverbial "Pandora's Box" of constitutional revision is more than offset by the risk of maintaining for another twenty years a governmental structure that has become increasingly unaccountable, unresponsive and incapable of meeting even the most basic of governmental objectives—the timely adoption of a State budget. A convention would permit a full and public debate of the crucial issues of our time—some supported by Citizens Union and others which we would oppose. Depriving New Yorkers of the forum of a constitutional convention deprives them of the power and responsibility due them as members of the body politic. It is crucial to remember that all proposed constitutional revisions would be subject to the ultimate check of the ballot box—the convention's final proposals must be submitted to the voters in 1999." 1997
"We reject those critics who concede the need for a constitutional convention revision, but fear the consequences of a Convention; generally, they do not wish to risk the present provisions that they support against the hope for further improvements. We believe that in a democracy it is crucial to trust that the people will elect delegates sympathetic to the public good, and not those who would be guided purely by the dictates of partisan advantage. The Constitutional Convention is our best opportunity for real reform." 1977
Vote Yes For a New York State Constitutional Convention
In the November 2017 election, the people of New York State will vote on whether they support convening a State Constitutional Convention. Citizens Union vigorously urges New Yorkers to vote YES. We firmly believe that New Yorkers must stand for a democracy worthy of its promise. A Constitutional Convention provides a once in a generation opportunity to “open” the state constitution and make much-needed reforms to improve the performance of our state government, strengthen the integrity of our political institutions and reform our broken 20th-century voting and electoral systems.
Citizens Union wants a state government that is not corrupt and lacks the regrettably all too common “pay to play” culture in which campaign contributions unduly influence legislative outcomes and the awarding of contracts. New Yorkers have a right to that. New Yorkers also deserve fairer and more competitive elections, where candidates can get on the ballot easier, and more ways and days to cast ballots. Fairer and simpler elections would increase voter turnout, improve accountability, and decrease corruption. A “cleaner” democracy will result in better schools and healthcare, a stronger economy, a cleaner environment, and a safer and freer state.
In our effort to achieve a YES vote, Citizens Union will be, over the coming year, mobilizing a movement of New Yorkers in support of a Constitutional Convention. We will articulate a positive vision for political reform and a government that works for ALL New Yorkers. We will offer the promise of HOPE for what is possible and how we can better serve all who live in the city and state. In the past, too many New Yorkers succumbed to negative campaigns and fear mongering, leading them to reject previous calls for a State Constitutional Convention in 1957, 1977, and 1997. Our campaign will be an optimistic one aimed at bringing civic-minded New Yorkers together in coalition to effect positive change. Our guiding principles for reform within a State Constitutional Convention include:
Our guiding principles for reform within a State Constitutional Convention include:
- Fair Elections. Elections should be impartial, neutral and equitable, minimizing partisan and financial interests. Voting should be accessible, easy, consequential, and expected.
- Honest and Ethical Government. The constitution should include stronger ethics regulations, with vigorous oversight and established ethical requirements for public officials.
- Accountable and Balanced Government. As the legislature and governor work together to pass laws and budgets, their actions should be transparent, with a more equitable balance of power.
- A More Effective Court System. The judicial branch must be updated to streamline and enhance operations, with a consolidated trial court system and merit-based appointments for judges.
- Robust and Functional Local Government. Municipal governments must be empowered to manage more of their affairs and to represent and provide services to New Yorkers adequately.
- Methodical Maintenance of State Constitution. The constitution is appropriately difficult to change, yet there should be mechanisms to conduct targeted upkeep, ensuring implementation of the will of the people.
Citizens Union recognizes that many advocates, special interests and even some of our allies may have significant concerns regarding opening up the constitution in this way. Citizens Union greatly values the fundamental rights and protections provided in New York State’s constitution, including many that provide basic freedoms analogous to those provided in the U.S. Constitution, as well as additional rights and protections in such areas as labor, education, the environment and care for the needy. Citizens Union would not support any effort to weaken or eliminate those valuable rights and protections. After a YES vote, Citizens Union will work to ensure that the convention would focus on a platform for democratic reform. Though an unlimited Constitutional Convention does present some risk to currently codified protections, we believe that this risk is worth taking, as it provides the opportunity to construct governmental systems that improve representative democracy through increased accountability, transparency, effectiveness, and ethical conduct. With a better functioning democracy, New Yorkers will create a more accountable state government that will more efficiently serve the public interest than ever before.