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We Don't Need A Constitutional Convention

Stan Simpson

November 01, 2008

I finally decided which way I'm voting Tuesday.

I'm talking about this confounding constitutional amendment question also on the ballot: "Shall there be a constitutional convention to amend or revise the constitution of the state?"

I'm voting NO.

Voting in the affirmative would allow voters to advocate amendments to the state constitution. But they can do so now. Just look at the second question on the Nov. 4 ballot, which asks whether 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the date of the general election. I'm voting YES for that.

A yes vote on the age change means as outgoing Common Cause Executive Director Andy Sauer and Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz have pointed out that the state's constitution would have to be amended.

Another reason not to have a constitutional convention is the excessive cost, about $13 million. That expense would come at a time when the state is chipping away at a $267 million budget deficit. While convention proponents are pushing this ballot as a way to take politics out and put the citizen back into the public policy process, the reality is that it would further complicate lawmaking.

Outside of sending a message to elected officials that they need to be better listeners, a convention would be of little use. Remember, I'm a guy who is opposed to the recent state Supreme Court ruling that would legalize gay marriage. And the gay marriage opponents are among those groups pushing for the convention. But again, if they want to amend the constitution there is a process to do so now. No, it's not easy. It is not supposed to be.

This ballot is a political exercise that reflects an emerging national dissatisfaction with elected officials. Constituents say their public officials are not in tune with their wishes.

I get it.

An example of that concern was the recent end-around New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pulled in getting his city council to abolish term limits just for him. Unbelievable.

In the 1990s, New Yorkers twice approved a two-term limit for their mayor. TWICE.

By all accounts billionaire Bloomberg has done a laudable job in his two terms as chief executive. But Bloomberg himself had also been a strong supporter of term limits until, well, he was nearing the end of his last term.

Suddenly, the mayor had a change of heart. And by a 29-22 council vote, he orchestrated an extension to a possible third term, flouting the will of the people.

"The idea of taking what was done by referendum and changing it because you happen to have a mayor that's very popular, I think is a real problem," said Miles Rapoport, president of Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action, a public policy center in New York City.

Rapoport is a former Connecticut secretary of the state and a founder of the now defunct DemocracyWorks organization that was based in Hartford.

He is actually against term limits, but also against how Bloomberg circumvented the electorate in successfully pushing for an extension.

Rapoport, a West Hartford resident, is a longtime advocate for citizen rights and more accessible voting. But even he has grave concerns about the need to convene a constitutional convention. "It's a real dilemma," he said.

A constitutional convention, folks, would be nothing more than a costly, unwieldy and potentially unseemly battle royal.

It's unnecessary.

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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