Lecture delves into convention question

The controversial issue coming before voters in two weeks was the subject of a recent lecture in the State University of New York at Fredonia’s Democracy 101 series.

Entitled “What You Need to Know About the New York Constitution,” Dr. Peter Galie, a former chair of the political science department at Canisius and the author of numerous articles dealing with state constitutional law, discussed the contentious issue of a Constitutional Convention.

“The proposition on November 7 is one of the purest examples of popular sovereignty we have in this country,” Dr. Galie said, opening his lecture.

He continued his presentation with a comparison between the U.S. Constitution and the New York Constitution; one being 7,000 words and the other 50,000 words, respectively.

Where the U.S. Constitution limits the role citizens can have on its amendments, the N.Y. Constitution provides a major role for citizens in the amendment process.

Every 20 years, New York residents have the opportunity to vote whether they want a Constitutional Convention held to revise and amend the state’s founding document. Little interest to change the constitution has been expressed by voters in the last 50 years. But though the convention was voted down in both 1977 and 1997, an overwhelming number of citizens didn’t vote for or against. According to the Siena Institute, in 1977, 3 million people left their ballots blank on this issue. Which was nearly triple the vote for it. And in 1997, 1.6 million didn’t vote at all; double the vote for the measure.

Although Dr. Galie’s presentation was neither advocating nor discouraging the Convention, he said, “It’s not likely to do much harm, it may do some good.” A contrary opinion suggests that existing rights could be repealed as a result of a Constitutional Convention.

This Constitutional Convention has the possibility to address the following issues without a senate to block them:

≤ Stronger constitutional requirements for educating youth, taking care of the mentally ill and protecting natural resources

≤ An independent redistricting commission to prevent gerrymandering

≤ Term limits for members of the legislature to prevent unchecked power

≤ Denying pensions to officials convicted of term-related felonies

≤ Extending pension guarantees to private sector workers

≤ And many other policy issues including gambling, charter schools, gun control, abortion, etc.

After the presentation, Dr. Galie opened the floor to questions and statements.

John Bardo, a Fredonia local in attendance, said, “When I was a kid, education was very strong, my parents voted in every election they were very conservative, but they were participatory. We’re losing the middle class. I was middle class. My job is gone, my pension’s gone, my health care’s gone. I was in the private sector, where there is no protection, by the way.”

Questions included how delegates are funded, the cost of a convention, and the dangers of “dark money” — money given from out-of-state sources to affect voters’ biases.

“What we have lost in this state is a trust in government,” Dr. Galie, said. “I believe trusting government is a constitutional issue.”

To the citizens of Chautauqua County, Dr. Galie left these words, “Don’t let us become the enemy. We need to think about hope and not fear. Fear will destroy us; hope has the possibility of salvation.”

For further exploration on the topic of the Constitutional Convention, please visit http://www.rockinst.org/nys_concon2017/pdf/2017_09_106_Issues_Final.pdf