Vot­ers have a chance to take con­trol of democ­racy

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Randy Mas­tro Randy Mas­tro is the chair­man of Ci­ti­zens Union of the City of New York.

On Nov. 7, for the first time in 20 years, New York­ers have the op­por­tu­nity to break free from the grid­lock of Al­bany and bring about mean­ing­ful re­forms to state govern­ment that have stalled for years un­der the gover­nor and the State Leg­is­la­ture. This year’s elec­tion brings with it the ques­tion of a state con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion and by vot­ing “yes,” New York­ers can take con­trol of democ­racy into their own hands.

The op­por­tu­ni­ties that a con­ven­tion brings to New York are abun­dant, from en­sur­ing a right to clear air to giv­ing lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties greater con­trol over their af­fairs. Three ar­eas of state govern­ment in par­tic­u­lar need fix­ing: ethics, cam­paign fi­nance and vot­ing laws.

Let’s be hon­est. Our state govern­ment has sim­ply failed to en­act any mean­ing­ful ethics re­form. In­deed, at least 34 state leg­is­la­tors have had to leave of­fice over mis­con­duct charges since 2000. That’s a shame­ful record of cor­rup­tion that can­not con­tinue.

Last Jan­uary, Gov. An­drew M. Cuomo pledged, as he typ­i­cally does year af­ter year, to clean up state govern­ment, and yet the leg­isla­tive ses­sion ended, once again, with no leg­is­la­tion ad­dress­ing ethics and cor­rup­tion in our state govern­ment. With a con­ven­tion, New York­ers can tackle cor­rup­tion di­rectly by amend­ing the state con­sti­tu­tion to, among other po­ten­tial reme­dies, limit leg­is­la­tors’ out­side in­come, im­pose term lim­its or cre­ate a truly in­de­pen­dent over­sight body to en­sure pub­lic in­tegrity.

Hand-in-hand with stronger ethics laws is the need for cam­paign fi­nance re­form. One in four state leg­is­la­tors ran un­op­posed in the most re­cent elec­tion cy­cle, and in­cum­bents are prac­ti­cally guar­an­teed re-elec­tion. It’s no sur­prise then that those in power have been hes­i­tant to make changes that would level the play­ing field.

A sys­tem of pub­lic cam­paign fi­nanc­ing would en­cour­age new faces to en­ter into pol­i­tics. A con­ven­tion also presents the best way to limit the flow of money into elec­tions by clos­ing the in­fa­mous loop­hole in the state’s cam­paign fi­nance laws that treats lim­ited li­a­bil­ity cor­po­ra­tions as in­di­vid­u­als.

A con­ven­tion is also a prime op­por­tu­nity to in­crease voter par­tic­i­pa­tion and fur­ther strengthen our statewide democ­racy. Top pri­or­ity should be up­dat­ing the state’s ar­chaic vot­ing laws. New York has some of the most re­stric­tive rules on the books that lead it to be ranked al­most last in the na­tion for voter turnout. By al­low­ing early vot­ing, same-day regis­tra­tion and more vot­ing by mail, we can make it eas­ier for New York­ers to make their voices heard.

A con­ven­tion is a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion op­por­tu­nity that lets ci­ti­zens have di­rect in­put on changes to New York’s con­sti­tu­tion. The con­ven­tion re­lies on demo­crat­i­cally elected del­e­gates who meet and con­sider amend­ments to the state’s con­sti­tu­tion. While del­e­gates lead the con­ven­tion, the real power rests with the peo­ple. Any amend­ments pro­posed by the con­ven­tion must be ap­proved and voted on by New York­ers.

A con­ven­tion is the best chance to take ac­tion and make th­ese changes that the state des­per­ately needs. For a bet­ter New York, New York­ers must vote yes for a con­ven­tion.

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