Sunday’s Best & Poll Question of the Week

Let’s Reform our Government: But How?

This week the Empire Page provided links to the news media’s continuing focus on what’s wrong with our state government and what can be done to fix it. In an overview piece Joe Spector, writing for Gannett News Service, compares New York with other states on campaign finance laws and legislative operations. He quotes experts who point out that New York provides fewer restrictions on both counts.

The Albany Times Union focuses on a feature of New York’s campaign finance laws that allows candidates to hold onto their funds after the election they ran for is over and use the money for almost any purpose. The most eggregious example is that the campaign funds of deceased State Senator Ronald Stafford are being dispersed by his wife who is a registered lobbyist and thus has an opportunity to use the funds to better her business.

The question is whether these and other flaws to our political infrastructure require a constitional convention (con con)? Alan Chartock speaks out this week against the idea. “When the last gavel has been banged, the same folks who were on top before such a convention will be running things when the smoke clears,” Chartock writes, while admitting that the state’s constitution is in need of change.

Assembly minority leader Brian Kolb is in favor of a con con. He’s started a petition drive on the website —

Chartock is correct that there is a danger in calling a con con, but he doesn’t tell us how the flaws in the current system that plague us today can be corrected.

I believe we have to ask ourselves whether we have any faith in the concept of democracy? If not, then the Legislature should appoint a panel of “experts” — made up of judges and Ph.D.’s balanced correctly by race, gender and sexual preference — to do the job for us. I predict that such a group would disguise their preferences (nice word for biases) behind big words and arcane theories and we’d end up with a disfunctional government that works to no one’s benefit.

Alternatively we can take the same risk the Founding Fathers took. We can allow the people, the public, the masses to have a go at picking the people to send to Albany to write a constitution that is better than the current document. Certainly special interests such as the Democratic and Republican parties would gain seats at the table. They are citizens too.

But here’s the key point: a constitutional convention would invite those chosen to represent their fellow citizens an opportunity to rise above self interest and create a document for the good of the state as a whole. It would be an opportunity for each individual to decide whether s/he wants to go down in history in the same league as James Madison or side with the Pedro Espada’s of the world!

Plus, keep in mind that the document is put before the voters before it can go into effect. So, if the con con creates a monstrousity, Prof. Chartock and others will point out the flaws and it can be defeated.

Prof. Chartock worries about the cost involved. However, compare the cost of what we’re dealing with today versus whatever it would cost the taxpayers to hold the convention and then put up the document for a vote. As a taxpayer I for one am willing to pay that price in the belief that we can do better!

Poll Question of the Week

This week we asked our readers if the media has been unfair to Gov. David Paterson as he alleged in a radio interview a couple of weeks ago. Seventy four (74) percent of those who voted this week said “Not at all” versus ten (10) percent who said “Definitely” and fourteen (14) percent who said “A Little”.

The media reported this week that the Legislature passed fewer bills this year than in the past. What we’d like to know is whether you think this is a good thing — reflecting the idea that the less the Legislature does the better — or whether it’s a bad thing, reflecting the notion that fewer bills means they’re not doing their jobs? Click here to go to the Empire Page and vote.


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