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.”