Vote No on question to hold a new Constitutional Convention for New York on November 7, 2017

July 25, 2017

Protect the Adirondacks is opposing the question on the ballot on November 7, 2017 on whether or not to hold a Constitutional Convention. This is a question that is asked of New York State voters every 20 years. There has not been a Constitutional Convention held since the late 1960s. There are many reasons why PROTECT urges voters across New York to VOTE NO on holding a Constitutional Convention.

In November 2017 New Yorkers will be asked to vote on a simple: “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?” If this passes, delegate elections will he held in 2018, and the concon will sit in 2019. A vote on a new constitution would probably be held in November, 2019.

A Constitutional Convention threatens the “Forever Wild” Provision in Article XIV, Section 1

Supporters of a Constitutional Convention (concon) claim that it will not diminish the authority of the provision in our current constitution – Article 14, Section 1 – stipulating that the state Forest Preserve be “forever kept as wild forest lands.”

In the American political climate of 2017, is it really a good idea for people to insist that they can accurately predict the future? Many supporters of a New York State Constitutional Convention appear to think it is.

What about the Forest Preserve? What about their argument that it is so revered, so historically enshrined, that no concon would ever dare diminish it?

For well over a century, ever since this provision was written into our constitution in 1894, New York’s natural-resources bureaucracy has resisted its strictures. It has proposed and implemented developments that significantly violated the forever-wild mandate. Beginning with state campsites developed after World War I, the state has frequently tried to get around forever wild. State officials wanted to construct a bobsled run on state land in 1930; after the great blowdown of 1950, they argued for the introduction of commercial logging; they built barns for horses in Cold River Country in the late 1960s; they have recently laid out wide, road-like snowmobile trails in roadless areas in the Forest Preserve.

Taken one at a time, these may not seem all that threatening, but they must be understood as a consistent, relentless pattern, one that has manifested itself with particular vigor in the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Governor’s office, ostensibly with the Governor’s approval, wants to develop part of the Boreas Ponds tract for people who don’t want to backpack or carry their own food. They’re proposing some sort of lodging and dining arrangement that would bring the perverse activity known as “glamping” into the Forest Preserve. Is that “forever wild”? Or is that a brazen attempt to redefine the purpose of the Forest Preserve?

At every concon since 1894, special interests have tried to modify Article 14. At first it was to permit logging on state land; later it was to change the wording of that provision to broaden the authority of the state to develop the Forest Preserve for non-wilderness recreation. In 1915, Article 14 was changed to allow road construction. In 1967, the Froessel amendment, which significantly expanded the legal power of the state to develop the Forest Preserve, was approved at that concon. The only reason these changes are not part of the Forest Preserve today is that the 1915 and 1967 constitutions were voted down by the people of the State of New York.

Only Existing Legislators and Politically Well-Connected People will be Elected as Convention Delegates

If a concon is approved, delegates will be elected according to an already established and legally unchallengeable formula: three from each senate district and 15 state wide. New York has 63 senate districts; they are big, with multiple media markets; a successful campaign for those seeking to be delegates will cost a lot of money. These districts are heavily gerrymandered to protect the incumbent Senators and their political machines. Those most likely to be elected are the current political leaders who already hold elected office in the State Senate and State Assembly. These political leaders will dominate the Constitutional Convention and protect the status quo.

In addition to the three delegates from each of the 63 Senate districts, there will 15 delegates elected “at large” from across New York. Campaigns for these 15 delegate slots will be enormously expensive and only the most well connected and financially supported candidate will be elected.

Big Money will Dominate the Election of Delegates and Influence their Work

If we have a concon, huge sums of money will be spent by wealthy individuals, PACs, and corporations, many from out of state, to get sympathetic delegates elected. This will not be a people’s convention. It will be populated by political insiders, lobbyists, and current legislators and judges, just as previous concons have been. These are the same people who run Albany right now and the same people who are driving the national political debate.

In 2014, over $60 million was spent on New York senate races. And bear in mind that many of the senate races that year were not seriously contested.

Do You Trust Governor Andrew Cuomo to Write a New NYS Constitution — The Man Who Disbanded His Own Government Ethics Commission? 

Governor Cuomo has shown a large appetite to maintain the Albany stars quo. When he disbanded his own ethics commission, because it was going to investigate the Executive as well as State Legislature, the Governor relinquished any moral high ground he may have enjoyed for promoting reform of public ethics in New York. Now, the Governor is claiming the only way to tackle ethics reform in Albany is through a concon. PROTECT disagrees. Albany needs reform and it should be done through the Governor and the Legislature.

On the Forest Preserve, Governor Cuomo appears to find the current constitutional provision to be a limit on his inclination to turn the Forest Preserve into a source of income for local businesses. He will undoubtedly be the most powerful figure at a concon, whether he sits as a delegate or operates behind the scenes. Will he demand that the historic protections now inscribed in Article 14 be “clarified” in such a way as to permit the century-old dream of diverting the management of the Forest Preserve away from preserving wilderness to promoting economic development?

Huge Number of Organizations Oppose a Constitutional Convention

Some organizations support a Constitutional Convention, but many more oppose. The New York Bar Association, the League of Women Voters, and other prominent organizations, argue that a cocoon is the only way to fix the culture of corruption in Albany. Their advocacy also seeks to convince those of us who have spent a good part of our lives defending Article XIV, Section 1, the “forever wild” provision, that nothing bad can happen. Count Protect the Adirondacks as unconvinced. Even more organizations concerned about the environment, public education, labor, and social welfare, are opposing the concon.

 

Protect the Adirondacks urges all New Yorkers to Vote NO on the question of holding a Constitutional Convention on Election Day November 7, 2017.

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