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Debate On A Constitutional Convention Heats Up

by | Sep 17, 2008 4:32pm
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Posted to: Election 2008, Election Policy

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Connecticut may be known as the Constitution state, but a group of 30 organizations is asking voters to vote “No” to opening a state constitutional convention.

It’s not so much the constitutional convention the group is worried about, but what may come out of that convention.

Proponents of a constitutional convention want to open up the constitution to include a way for ordinary citizens to petition issues like property tax reform or same-sex marriage onto a statewide ballot.

Standing on the steps of the state Capitol Wednesday, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who opposes a convention, said that there are better ways to change the state constitution, than holding a constitutional convention.

He said the current state constitution has been amended 30 times through the legislative process to change how judges are appointed, eliminate the corrupt sheriffs system, and determine how an incapacitated governor should be replaced.

In 1986 Connecticut voters decided against convening a constitutional convention, which by Article 13 of the state constitution requires the question—“Shall there be a constitutional convention to amend or revise the Constitution of the State?”—to be asked every 20 years.

State Comptroller Nancy Wyman said she’s afraid someone would initiate budget reductions or changes to the state’s tax structure through a constitutional ballot referendum. She said she doesn’t question the right of voters to make their voices heard, however, such a referendum is a dangerous shortcut, “just look what happened in California.”

She said the only people such a referendum will serve is special interest groups that represent only a minority of the people in the state.

Susan Kniep, president of the Federation of Connecticut Taxpayers, said in a phone interview Wednesday that “people feel disenfranchised from their government today.” She said this is why her organization and others are in favor of convening a constitutional convention with the ultimate goal of giving citizens a say on issues.

As the state debates whether to open a constitutional convention, “we need to reflect on the limitations which taxpayers and voters now have to effectuate change in our state government,” Kniep said. She said in the absence of a referendum, “our only recourse rests in our ability to garner the interests of our state representatives.”

Wyman said if voters take issue with the job she’s doing then “don’t vote for me next time.” She said people should vote “No” in November to “taking away the people’s voice.” She said allowing special interests to control the agenda “is not fair to the average taxpayer.”

Wesley Horton, who specializes in constitutional law and has written a book on Connecticut’s constitution, said in a statement Wednesday “The purpose of a constitution, as opposed to a body of statutes, is to set forth the general framework and those fundamental principles for how a government should be run.”

The last Constitutional Convention in Connecticut took place in 1965, and was called to correct a deeply flawed system of apportioning representatives to the General Assembly which gave large cities such as New Haven and Bridgeport roughly the same number of house seats as small towns such as Union and Beacon Falls.

In his statement Horton said “There is no similar circumstance in Connecticut in 2008.”

“Without some overwhelming need for a constitutional convention, such a convention could easily be dominated by single-issue special interest groups,” he said. “If zealous groups to not get what they want from the legislature or the governor or the courts, they could put the issue to the convention.”

Horton warned that “If we think the Connecticut legislature is dominated by special interest groups, wait until Connecticut has a constitutional convention called, not because some major upheaval requires it, but because special interest groups band together to dominate it!”

Kniep said a constitutional convention would benefit both conservatives and liberals because it would give everyone a say in the process.

Kniep said she is taking her message about voting “Yes” to the question to every public access station in the state. She said they’re also waiting on lawn signs which are being produced.

Peggy Shorey, campaign manager of the Vote No: Protect Our Constitution, referendum committee wouldn’t say how much money her group has raised to get its message out, and wouldn’t confirm whether it would be spending money on television commercials, but she did say she’s confident “we have the ability to get the message out statewide.”

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(11) Archived Comments

posted by: The Federation of CT Taxpayer Organizations | September 18, 2008  9:06am

IT IS TIME FOR US CITIZENS TO START TAKING BACK THEIR GOVERNMENT.  LET US START IN CONNECTICUT.  ON NOVEMBER 4, PLEASE VOTE YES FOR A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION IN CONNECTICUT!  Connecticut taxpayers pay the highest property taxes in the nation, second to New Jersey.  It is the State where the rights of homeowners have been abused through Eminent Domain when property owners such as Susette Kelo and others had their property taken from them and given to private developers.  On Nov 4, 2008, there will be a question on the ballot which will read -  SHALL THERE BE A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION TO AMEND OR REVISE THE CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE?  PLEASE VOTE YES!  When the question is approved, Connecticut residents should then work for the right of Statewide Initiative and Referendum (I&R) which will give all Connecticut citizens greater control of their state government.  Statewide Initiative and Referendum will Reverse the concentration of government power, Neutralize the power of special interests, Increase public understanding of issues, Stimulate public involvement in the political process and improve voter turnout, and Make government more responsive.  What would you like to change in our State government?  Would you like property tax reform, a cap on local spending and reduced taxes, changes to eminent domain to protect your property rights, a three strikes law to reduce crime, term limits?  You decide what you want and under I&R you can work to get your idea on the ballot statewide.  The process is similar to what you can do in your hometown if you can petition to put your budget on the ballot.  Visit the following website to learn more -  Susan Kniep,  President, The Federation of Connecticut Taxpayer Organizations,  Website -  http://ctact.org/
Email -  fctopresident@aol.com Click to read more - VOTERS UNITE. VOTE YES ON NOV 4, 2008.

posted by: cedarhillresident | September 18, 2008  9:38am

Hmmm yes we do have in idea of what happens in CA, after all we did not learn from them when it came to de-regulation of energy comp. And look what happened! And the people did not want it the people in Hartford did…Thanx!
I have watched Rell veto important things that where passed on all levels till they go to her desk! So did those issues that the people wanted happen! No!  It is about the people! I do not know to much about this convention thing but I do have to say if it truly allows my voice to be heard ...and not Vetoed by one women Then I am in!
And Property Tax reform… they keep saying their is nothing they can do ...BS yes their is you choose not to do anything. The middle class are disappearing from this state….Time to fix it….Look into the Star program in NY. That is the way to go!!!

posted by: Gary Doyens | September 18, 2008  11:19am

I am voting for the convention. It’s a no brainer. Our elected officials don’t listen and don’t care what we think. If they did, they would make it easier to raise our families here by cutting taxes and making government actually work for the people. There is no reason why living in Connecticut has to cost so much. You double tax us on gas at pump; income tax, eye popping income taxes, endless taxes on our cars, high building permit fees, taxes on the sale of our homes. There is not one ounce of fiscal discipline in this state - none. And elected officials from local to state are directly responsible.

Yes, we can vote out pols that we don’t like, but when they’re supported by machine politics like in New Haven, it is a huge uphill battle. The machine has so dumbed down the electorate and ruined the economic base of that city, you have a growing population of poverty who demand more services than what we can afford.

It’s pitiful. Bring on the convention and then let’s bring on the petitions to do what’s right for working families in CT.

posted by: Gary Doyens | September 18, 2008  11:21am

I am voting for the convention. It’s a no brainer. Our elected officials don’t listen and don’t care what we think. If they did, they would make it easier to raise our families here by cutting taxes and making government actually work for the people. There is no reason why living in Connecticut has to cost so much. You double tax us on gas at pump; income tax, eye popping property taxes, endless taxes on our cars, high building permit fees, taxes on the sale of our homes. There is not one ounce of fiscal discipline in this state - none. And elected officials from local to state are directly responsible.

Yes, we can vote out pols that we don’t like, but when they’re supported by machine politics like in New Haven, it is a huge uphill battle. The machine has so dumbed down the electorate and ruined the economic base of that city, you have a growing population of poverty who demand more services than what we can afford.

It’s pitiful. Bring on the convention and then let’s bring on the petitions to do what’s right for working families in CT by limiting government’s hand in our pockets and encouraging personal responsibility and accountability.  It’s past time.

posted by: Aldon Hynes | September 18, 2008  1:21pm

Last Saturday, I wrote a blog post on “Why I Support a Constitutional Convention in Connecticut”, http://www.orient-lodge.com/node/3177 

I’d encourage everyone to stop by and read the details.

With that, I want to highlight a key caveat to my support:

However, if you don’t even know who your state representatives are, then you should learn how your state reps are before voting for this. Likewise, if you haven’t followed any legislation through the General Assembly, and contacted lawmakers to express your opinion about pending legislation, then you shouldn’t vote for this. If your state representative hasn’t responded the way you like, and that representative has run unopposed, you should not vote for this, but you should run for state office yourself, instead.

In my personal case, I don’t meet that caveat, so instead of voting for the Constitutional Convention, I will vote against it. 

At the same time, I will work to see that more people know who their state reps are, follow legislation through the general assembly, and that there are less unopposed races.

posted by: cedarhillresident | September 18, 2008  5:27pm

The Federation of CT Taxpayer Organizations

I will be spreading the word!

Aldon Hynes
what a load of bull! When you vote people in you expect them to do the right thing. Instead they get wrapped up in their own pet projects! and the campaign contributors projects. Then they spin a web of lies on how they had no control ect. Please. Then you get things voted through and all aprove it…wham the Gov. slaps it down. No you should be voting yes. Shame!

posted by: cgl08001 | September 19, 2008  3:47pm

I question the reasoning of why people would vote “Yes” to the Constutional Convention on Nov 4th.  Voting “Yes” is not going to ensure that CT citizens have a more direct say in government.  Rather, a “Yes” vote is simply guaranteeing that a Constitutional Convention will take place.

Connecticut citizens will not have a direct say even if the Constitutional Convention is approved becuase we will not appoint the delegates that will represent us.  Instead, local politicans, those people we elected, will choose who goes.  I’m betting that they don’t appoint you or me.  My money is on special interest groups and lobbyists.  For example, a comment by The Federation of CT Taxpayer Organizations, states “When the question is approved, Connecticut residents should then work for the right of Statewide Initiative and Referendum (I&R) which will give all Connecticut citizens greater control of their state government. Statewide Initiative and Referendum will Reverse the concentration of government power, Neutralize the power of special interests, Increase public understanding of issues, Stimulate public involvement in the political process and improve voter turnout, and Make government more responsive.”  How is volunteering for a special interest group going to accomplish this goal of diminishing special interest power and bringing the power back to the people? It seems like an oxymoron to me.

Since “normal, everyday” citzens will have no say in who is appointed to the convention then we can’t really be assured of what changes/additions will occur to the Constitution.  There is no guarantee that the changes made will benefit Connecticut residents.  The individuals appointed to this convention will be from special interest groups.  They are not going to have the general public’s interest in mind.  We will not have a say.

I’m voting “NO” on Nov. 4th.  I’m sticking with our Constitution and protecting my rights.

posted by: William Doriss | September 19, 2008  10:41pm

If Bloomy is against it, I’m for it. Give it up Bloomy. Time’s up. Move over,... give someone else a shot,... jerky boy,... Asbergers Syndrome,... for real! Is this mike on?!?

posted by: Ben | October 21, 2008  3:37pm

The very thought of all taxpayers having aa real say in what happens in the state strikes fear into the hearts of politicians who always know what is best for us and of course, are never influenced by special interest groups. A constitutional convention that would create a system whereby we, the lowly taxpayer, could have more of a say than by electing or voting against people every two years must really terrify the professional politician.

posted by: FRANCIS KNIZE | October 25, 2008  11:03pm

Dear fellow citizens of Conn. Please let me help explain why we need a constitutional convention. For two years I submitted a bill to the House Judiciary Committee in Connecticut. Now it just so happens lawyers inhabit all three branches of government; the legislature, the executive, and the judicial branch. In a way , this represents a conflict of interest according to the dictas of the Constitution, and is more likely than not repugnant to the Constitution and is an illegal form of control by a nobility.

The Bill sought to do something positive with much-needed oversight mechanisms - implanting of an Inspector General for the Judiciary with Grand Jury Powers: judges who are hired to enforce the law should not so readily break or deny the law. This bill would put judges on notice to follow the law, and not ignore briefs that clearly state what laws are being broken. I speak from experience.

But Representative Lawlor and Senator McDonald did everything they could to quash the bill, even though it was sponsored by Rep. Art O’Neil.

Why they did this is obvious: for their own partisan interest to protect the lawyer/judge absolute control the judiciary exercises for itself.

Now, you must also remember we are a nation of people who form a government of, for, and by ourselves and there should be no government without the consent of We The People. But our judges are judging the judges, and it is rare a judge is held accountable for lawlessness.

I think it would be a good idea if the people were to have powers for a ballot initiative to finally, at long last BALANCE the scales against the undo weight and influence of lawyer control of our government. One solution is to NOT vote for lawyers. But the fact that a Constitutional Convention will give us people power back to get those lawyer Chairs of the Judiciary Committee (Lawlor and McDonald) to back off from taking away what the public wants: accountability and transparency of our public officials.

posted by: michael, plantsville ct | October 29, 2008  10:21am

I’m still confused.  Some say that we are being overrun by special interest groups which tug on the ears of our constituents to promote or decry one bill or another depending on how that particular group interprets the wording in the bill.  That by itself is confusing, interpretation of meaning by virtue of the words written.

So if special interest groups are infiltrating due process, is that bad?  Let’s say one special interest group represents preserving our state’s green space; that is a good thing right?  What special interest group is bad?  Are they not made up of people with good intent?  Is MADD a special interest group?  Probably, so too the NRA and AARP.

The issue isn’t meant to deprive those groups from having a say but to allow common people to have a greater say without being so dependent on becoming part of a group.  And therein lies the rub.  One individual standing on a stump does not gain much attention unless she or he is speaking about something of interest to the passerby.  When the one becomes two and then three and then many; low and behold, a group of similarly minded people is formed with a single minded purpose, a special interest if you will.

It is the majority of the “common” people who are supposed to decide how “laws of the land” are to be written and subscribed to.  How is it that this ideal is breached by a convention?  Are “we the people” incapable of choosing what is best for ourselves?  Probably, but to deny us the opportunity to prove it is to abolish the very concept of a constitution designed to grant us that right.

So let there be a convention.  If “we the people” delude ourselves by believing we can make a difference, then perhaps we must have a way of proving it one way or the other.  If we establish a precedent by actually serving the best interest of all of us as a group then what’s the harm?  If, however, we as the majority fail to take our fate into our own hands, then the special interest groups will rule and our ineptitude will be our only solace.