Former state Rep. John Woodcock defines himself as a progressive Democrat who favors gay rights; Peter Wolfgang is a conservative whose main job is battling same-sex marriage.
They wouldn't seem to agree on much. But Woodcock and Wolfgang have found common ground on a question that will appear on the November ballot: Should the state hold a convention to amend the state constitution? They both say yes because they want to see the constitution reworked to allow for something called "direct initiative," a mechanism that permits citizens to force a vote on matters of public policy.
"This is about opening up democracy and sharing power," said Woodcock, who served in the legislature in the 1980s and now teaches at Central Connecticut State University. "It's an establishment vs. the people issue."
Opponents of direct initiative say it would clog government with endless and expensive referendums on a host of arcane matters. Gay-rights activists say it will become a tool for those who want to quash the rights of same-sex couples.
The question has drawn its most vocal support from conservative groups who feel shut out of the circles of power at the Capitol. They include the anti-gay-rights Family Institute of Connecticut, which Wolfgang leads, as well as advocates of tougher penalties for criminals, critics of eminent domain and taxpayer activists.
But it has also piqued the interest of some progressives who are similarly frozen out by the state's political elite. "We shouldn't be afraid of democracy," said Mike De Rosa, head of the Green Party in Connecticut. The party hasn't taken an official position on the question, but De Rosa said it deserves a look. Thirty-one states, including California and Massachusetts, permit direct initiative, or a similar mechanism.
"A lot of conservative groups are looking at it from their own ideological paradigm," De Rosa said. "We see it as an opportunity to free the system, to open it up to more choices and more voices. That's very frightening to people."
Neither De Rosa nor Woodcock were among the roughly 2,800 people who attended a Family Institute rally on the north side of the Capitol Sunday afternoon. The event aimed to drum up support for the constitutional convention and also to "urge" the state Supreme Court to reject a lawsuit brought by eight same-sex couples seeking the right to marry. Although judges in Connecticut are not elected, "they do follow public opinion," Wolfgang asserted.
About 75 people gathered on the south side of the building in opposition to the constitutional convention.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at