NY Constitutional Convention Scares Bejesus Out Of Both Left & Right


Editor’s Note: Howard Graubard is something of an expert historian on New York politics and procedure. He has rightly corrected us more times than we care to admit. We welcome him to the KCP & QCP family of writers.

From Planned Parenthood to New York State Right to Life, from the WFP to the Conservative Party, from the mountains to the prairies, interest groups from all over the New York State political spectrum have been frothing, white with foam, in abject fear about the prospect of a New York State Constitutional Convention.

Conservatives may have legitimate reasons for their concerns.

Howard Graubard

Writing in the Post, George Marlin, a leader of the NYS Conservative Party (and author of a pretty good book about the Party’s history), does a nice job of summing up the right wing’s fears. To Marlin’s credit, almost none of the issues he raises relate to interest group politics.

By contrast, liberals are scared because liberal interest groups have been running a scare campaign.

The implicit and sometimes explicit message of the organized opposition to the Con-Con is that it is such a threat to public order that one dare not even speak its name. Typical is the recent forum run by State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, which featured only speakers opposed to holding such a convention.

Such elected officials express by such actions their implicit belief that their constituents are too stupid to be allowed to think for themselves.

What we have here are members of the political establishment propounding a message of “Change We Can Avoid” by scarring the bejesus out of people.

“The Koch Brother are coming to burn down your forests, take away your pensions and lay waste to collective bargaining.”  

I recently addressed some of the substantive reason why liberals should support a constitutional convention in an article posted at “The Bridge-Brooklyn Business News. I recommend that you check it out (they changed my original title, which was “Remo-actionary  Liberalism Versus the Constitutional Convention”—you’ll need to read the piece to get that joke, but when you do, here’s the visual).

Executive Summary: Both the hopes and fears the prospect of a convention has inspired have been greatly exaggerated by the partisans on each side, but the pressing need to change the way our state does business overwhelms by several magnitudes concerns raised by opponents which are largely fictitious, and a Con-Con is pretty much our last best hope for process reforms which the legislature will otherwise never address.  

But, not being written for a politics blog, that article did not address in detail why the fears being propounded by liberal interest groups are oh, so much natural fertilizer.  

Yes, we sometimes mess up in New York state politics, but New York politics messes up within certain parameters. The hysterical fears being articulated by Con-Con opponents are almost entirely outside those parameters.

Liberal convention opponents fear that gerrymandering works in the GOP’s favor in the selection of convention delegates.

They are wrong.

Yes, most delegates will be chosen by State Senate districts, three delegates to a district, and those districts are gerrymandered in favor of the GOP, which controls the State Senate through the votes of several Democratic deserters.

The gerrymander is egregious, but because of it, almost every Democratic Senate District, drawn as they are to pack Democrats, are going to elect three Democrats, while most of the more marginal GOP seats have a good shot at electing some Democrats, especially if the Democrats in those districts slate as delegates popular Assembly Members or local officials.

Most Democratic Senate seats have only Democratic members of the Assembly representing their districts. Most GOP Senate seats have one or more Democrats in the Assembly. The Republicans will probably claim all three delegates in very few districts.

Further, there will be no GOP incumbents using the advantages of incumbency to keep seats Republican that really aren’t.  No member items; no newsletters; and no bought off union endorsements for candidates setting out to hurt unions.

To put this more level playing field in perspective, in 2016, Hillary Clinton won 40 of the 63 State Senate Districts, and that represents a bad Democratic year; in 2012, Barack Obama won 55 of the 63.

And, despite the fears, there’s no way the liberal districts of GOP allied Senate Democrats like Jesse Hamilton, Diane Savino, Marisol Alacantra or Jose Peralta are going to elect quasi-GOP delegates who are anti-labor or anti-civil rights.

Then there are the 15 delegates elected statewide. Democrats have a far stronger bench of potential statewide candidates to nominate. Democrats can run Eric Schneiderman, Tom DiNapoli and Chuck Schumer, if they want.

Where is the equivalent GOP firepower?

Are they going to run Donald Trump?

Next, there is the reality of the New York State GOP. The New York GOP holds power in the State Senate by buying off labor unions early and often. You say 1199 and Senate GOP Leader John Flanagan will bid 1200.

Most of the delegate candidates from both Parties will likely be ambitious pols who want to live to fight another day. Many will be legislators. They do not want to be on labor’s permanent hate list.

Even if, in some alternative universe, the Koch brothers mount primaries in every GOP seat and win two-thirds of the GOP nominees, that leaves a third who are still going to be inclined to support the labor status quo.

The delegates elected from GOP Senate seats in the Capitol Area, constituencies filled with voters in the State pension system, and that system’s retirees, will alone ensure that the math is just not there for the things the fear mongerers are mongering fears about.

And then the whole thing goes to a voter referendum.

It is true in theory, that every time I leave the house, it increases the possibility I will be hit by a bus.

Liberal opposition to the Constitutional Convention is essentially a call that we never leave the house.