There's a growing movement to hold a constitutional convention to right the wrongs that have made New York State's dysfunctional government a laughing stock in the nation.
Those who want a convention to re-make the New York Constitution and institute desperately needed reforms, The New York Times reports, include: former Governor Mario Cuomo, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Westchester Democratic Assemblyman Richard Brodsky and editorial writers across the state.
If he were alive or watching from afar, our founding father, Thomas Jefferson, would be delighted and he'd be cheering us on. Jefferson believed the nation's Constitution needed total revision every 20 years. He wrote: "No work of man is perfect. It is inevitable that, in the course of time, the imperfections of a written Constitution will become apparent."
When he wrote that he probably didn't exactly have in mind Albany in 2009 and the rogue senators, Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrat, who managed to throw the legislature into a state of chaos for a over a month while enraging the citizens of New York. A recent Quinnipiac Poll shows that more than 75 percent of voters think the government is dysfunctional and 64 percent favor a constitutional convention.
Thomas Jefferson would not have been surprised. He wrote, advocating frequent changes in constitutions: "We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." And he also said: "The example of changing a constitution by assembling the wise men of the State instead of assembling armies will be worth as much to the world as the former examples we had given them.''
Assemblyman Brodsky told me he's been trying to convene a constitutional convention for the last 10 years. Some law makers have introduced legislation to authorize the election of delegates to a state convention as early as 2010. Brodsky says it's important to safeguard certain rights already embedded in state law, involving education and fair working conditions.He wants drastic reforms in government but favors social provisions to the constitution like the right to primary health care.
Former Governor Cuomo said: "Legislators like things the way they are. Governors don't."
Yet Governor Paterson is not eager for a convention and neither are the Democratic leaders of the Senate and Assembly. Cuomo told the Times that a convention could be a way for legislators to renew their credibility with voters. He asks: ''Why are people afraid of fundamental change? You don't like three men in a room or three women in a room? Then change it.''
There are prominent dissenters to the idea of a constitutional convention. Conservative Party leader Michael Long said a constitutional convention would simply enable legislators to duck their responsibility to pass needed changes. ''What's broken in Albany is the elected officials,'' he says. "What we need is reform -- we need term limits, we need initiative and referendum. We don't need a convention for that. Why don't they just start introducing legislation to fix the problems?''
Sheldon Silver, the moderate speaker of the Democratically controlled Assembly, interestingly, seems almost in agreement with the conservative leader. Says Silver: "There are a number of succession proposals that are before the Legislature that can be adopted without the costly expense of a convention."
Yet, with people like Senator Espada, who has padded his payrolls with relatives and cronies, in control, you have to be skeptical that anything constructive can happen. It's time for fundamental, drastic change. The people are demanding it. As Jefferson
said: "Let us go on perfecting the Constitution by adding, by way of amendment, those forms which time and trial show are still wanting."
He had the right idea two centuries ago. We need to be wise enough to follow his counsel today -- without delay.