President's perspective

Why your NO vote on Nov. 7 matters

Michael Mulgrew 2015 PortraitMichael Mulgrew A proposal that threatens the well-being of UFT members and their families is on the ballot on Nov. 7: whether or not to hold a constitutional convention in the state of New York. I urge you to vote NO and tell your friends, family members and colleagues to do the same.

If voters approve a convention, it will open up the entire New York State constitution for revision. Every right now enshrined in our state constitution would be put at risk: public-employee pensions, the right to organize and bargain collectively, public schools, Workers’ Compensation, workplace safety and health protections and environmental safeguards.

Many of you are already aware of the importance of stopping this bad idea in its tracks. But polls show many New Yorkers don’t know there is a convention question on the November ballot or are ill-informed about how a convention would likely play out given the special interests that hold sway in Albany. And to make things more complicated, the question is on the back of the ballot so many voters will not even see it.

The state constitution requires that this question appear on the ballot every 20 years. Yet, a state constitution would be expensive — estimates are in the hundreds of millions of dollars — and unnecessary.

Far from a “people’s convention,” a state constitutional convention would be an invitation for the usual suspects to line their own pockets — and strip away rights New Yorkers cherish.

One good government group has issued a study of past New York State conventions called “Patronage, Waste and Favoritism.” That just about sums it up.

Consider what would happen if voters approved the convention: Three delegates would be elected from each of 63 Senate districts, and 15 would be elected statewide. Current political office-holders and lobbyists would be allowed to run for these seats. Each delegate would receive nearly $80,000 a year over and above any government salary. Given that financial incentive, who do you think will run for delegate? And given how politicians with name recognition and local party machines have a huge advantage in any election, who do you think would claim most of the seats?

You can see how this becomes an insider’s game, with those in the know jockeying for power, money and influence.

It’s important that we carry our message far and wide. Don’t be fooled by those who say a constitutional convention is the only way to effect change in the state. We already have a legislative process in place to amend the New York State constitution without a convention. The state Legislature must pass a constitutional amendment in two consecutive legislative sessions and then it is put before New Yorkers in a statewide vote. This process has been used almost 200 times already in our state’s history, on everything from term limits to casino gambling.

Here is something else that we must take into account: the current political climate. We live in a perilous moment for workers’ rights, civil rights and the environment. We are learning more about how anti-union forces and big-money interests have upended our democratic processes to advance their own agendas. Corporations and conservative foundations with deep pockets have been adept at hijacking the legislative process in many state capitols, lobbying for bills that further their interests, bankrolling candidates who do their bidding and killing any attempt at accountability or regulation that impedes their ability to enrich themselves.

A constitutional convention will give those forces a new avenue to scuttle the rights and protections that have made New York State a beacon for others across the nation. Join me in the effort to defeat this dangerous proposal.

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