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Injecting Chaos Into Democracy

Rick Green

September 23, 2008

I really want to support this idea of bringing more democracy to our state.

That's the essence of a campaign that will ask voters in November whether we should hold a constitutional convention. Supporters want such a convention to amend the constitution to allow for something called "direct initiative," whereby citizens could petition to force a vote on pretty much anything they want.

Because it's true, special interests too often control the political game. The legislature and governor seem chronically unable to deal with the crucial issues facing Connecticut: out-of-control property taxes, a shortage of trained workers, failing students, inferior public transportation, to name a few.

I will admit that this let's-vote-on-it thing appeals to my inner I-grew-up-in-Vermont-inthe-1970s populism.

Shouldn't we vote on the things that matter? Isn't that the point of democracy?

It's just that I'm not sure the answer is creating a new system where we vote on everything. This would be good news for pot smokers, gay-marriage opponents, anti-tax crusaders and gadflies who want referendums on any of their pet issues.

But there is a good reason we are a long way from California, where they are bogged down with endless recall votes, referendums and divisive debate about issues the government has no business getting involved with in the first place.

These reformers want me to do the job of our elected officials? I don't know about you, but I barely have time to read the paper, clean the garage, watch "Mad Men" and get to school curriculum night.

So I started to feel squirrelly about my populism when I stumbled into a press conference put on by the group pushing for the convention.

Members kept saying this wasn't about special interests. So why was the director of the Family Institute of Connecticut (google: Marriage Protection Pledge) up there at the front of the room?

Then Matthew M. Daly, chairman of the Constitution Convention Campaign, started firing wildly, aiming his buckshot at a cross-section of our elected officials.

My populism, it dawned on me, was not their populism.

"The attorney general, our secretary of state, our treasurer and our comptroller did not have the guts yesterday to tell their constituents, to tell the voters of Connecticut, that they are against one man, one vote," Daly thundered.

Later, when they were done alternately trashing the media and unions, I asked Daly and the Republican state representatives standing behind him, including Arthur O'Neill, Ruth Fahrbach and Al Adinolfi if they really, honestly think our state's top constitutional officers are against the one-person, one-vote principal?

Pushing my luck, I asked for a show of hands. My populist brothers and sisters did not like this. But at least O'Neill and Fahrbach indicated that maybe they didn't quite believe that the four Democrats they mentioned opposed the essence of our democracy. So did Peter "This is the people's opportunity" Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute.

"I don't think Dick Blumenthal and the other constitutional officers think that they are against one man, one vote," Wolfgang said, a fact I confirmed later with a call to the attorney general.

"But," Wolfgang added, "they do not want the people to have direct say over their laws."

What Wolfgang, O'Neill, Daly and the other faux populists behind this constitutional convention aren't telling you is that this is all about special interests and handing them the right to ram their various agendas down our throats. They want to bring us endless and costly referendums on everything from abortion to gay marriage to eliminating teacher unions to medical marijuana.

Maybe I'm just more of a conservative than a populist.

I want our legislators to do the work they were elected to do, which is pass laws and approve a state budget. If I don't like what they do, I'll vote against them on Election Day.

We don't need a constitutional convention. Vote no.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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