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No To A Convention

Don't Open Constitution There are less dangerous ways to amend it

Hartford Courant Editoral

October 27, 2008

Correction Appended

On Nov. 4, voters will be asked whether there should be a convention to revise the state constitution. The answer should be no.

There are less dangerous ways to amend the state constitution than through a convention. It could turn into a free-for-all for special interests and bypass the more contemplative process in place. That process may be slow-moving, but it's better than the government-by-initiative tumult of plebiscite-mad California.

A convention could also suck the energy out of the legislature next year to address the huge issues facing the state, including plummeting revenues.

If voters say yes, the legislature will decide on the selection of delegates -- they could be appointed or elected -- to meet and determine how the constitution should be amended. Voters may then approve those amendments by a simple majority.

Supporters of a constitutional convention want most of all an amendment allowing citizen initiatives. What sounds like a dreamy form of direct democracy voters gathering enough signatures to put a proposed law on the ballot could wreak havoc in the Land of Steady Habits.

Voters could approve initiatives they might come to regret, such as a cap on property taxes so severe that Connecticut's schools could deteriorate as badly as California's have under Proposition 13.

There are, to be sure, worthy initiative questions, such as whether the state should abandon its dead-end policy of energy deregulation.

But initiative questions could have pernicious effects on the Constitution State. And some might be just plain unconstitutional, such as whether to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. That would be struck down because the state's highest court has recently determined such a law would violate the constitution's equal-protection promise.

The special-interest money that was removed from most of the state's legislative races this year through the public financing of campaigns is now being poured into this ballot question, mostly by those who oppose a convention.

Because public campaign financing is catching on 75 percent of legislative candidates have participated in the voluntary system this year future elections should have even more qualified candidates who would carry out the wishes of the people and obviate the desire for initiatives.

A convention isn't the only way to change the state constitution. The General Assembly can propose amendments, too, and has done so successfully dozens of times in the past half-century. In 1992, citizens overwhelmingly voted for a constitutional amendment limiting state spending that had first passed in the legislature.

Yes, the legislative route takes time and isn't perfect. But the state constitution should be hard to change. It shouldn't be tinkered with lightly.

Correction

Monday's editorial "No To A Convention" mistakenly said the General Assembly would appoint delegates to a convention to amend the state constitution, if voters approve such a convention in Tuesday's election. The constitution lets the legislature decide how delegates are selected; they could be appointed or elected.

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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