A Constitional Convention of Crazies?

Political consultant Larry Ceisler penned an op-ed denouncing a Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. (Hat Tip: GrassrootsPA) While there are legitimate concerns about a Con Con, Ceisler addresses none of those, but instead offers ridiculous fear mongering.

You’ll have a room full of tea-partiers, Moveon.org types, pajama-clad bloggers, single-issue advocacy groups and special interests.

I have respect for a lot of tea-partiers and even MoveOn types – they are true believers and follow politics closely. Bloggers and advocacy groups don’t exactly scare my pants off either. And special interests? Of course, special interests like Mr. Ceisler’s clients will be very interested in the outcomes of a convention. But that is no different than the lobbying that goes on today (and in fact, represents a reason to convene a convention to put better limits on the powers of government to reward special interests).

The most sweeping Constitutional Convention bill – Senator Folmer’s SB 340 – would elect three delegates from every Senatorial district, with 100 signature needed to get on the ballot. And contrary to Ceisler’s claim, the delegates would be compensated. This would lead to a delegation similar in ideological mix and background to … the Pennsylvania Senate.

Either Ceisler’s description of legislators should apply to delegates:

The vast majority are dedicated to serving the best interests of their constituencies – and that dedication is not determined by party affiliation.

Or his straw-man idea of a convention should describe the current legislature:

Crazies from the left and right debating sunshine provisions with representatives of corporate Philadelphia, trial lawyers and unions.

Furthermore, Ceisler’s fears seem to have little basis in history. Pennsylvania has have five constitutional conventions since 1776, other states have had more. Ceisler writes,

There was a constitutional convention in the 1960s. I can actually remember it and knew some of the delegates – many of whom were the very people you’d want to be protected from.

But if the convention of 1968 was so bad, wouldn’t we want to improve upon it? While many feel our current constitution is flawed, none of the previous conventions had the catastrophic effects Ceisler fears. And a Constitutional Convention would first require legislative approval to put in on the ballot, voter approval to call the referendum, (under SB 340) two-thirds of delegates to approve any changes, and voter approval again for the new constitution. This is hardly a process that would yield to “the crazies.”

Ceisler also argues that we have a constitutional convention every two years in Pennsylvania when we elect our General Assembly. Ridiculous! Our current constitution says citizens have “an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish their government.” Does Ceisler honestly believe that this right only goes so fare as to allow election of lawmakers?

Finally, Ceisler suggests we don’t need a convention, all we need is one simple reform. Changing how we draw legislative districts

A more common-sense electoral process could be achieved by drawing districts that include whole counties and municipalities and common geographic and socioeconomic factors.

If seats are drawn sensibly and competitively, primary elections won’t always determine the winners, and our elected representatives will be more middle-of-the-road and responsive to the varied interests of their constituents.

Ceisler fails to realize the irony here: redistricting reform requires a constitutional change. And there is little reason to think that the General Assembly will enact such reform. Legislators have failed to act on numerous redistricting reform bills over the past few years (and would have to do so in consecutive sessions to put it on the ballot). And, of course, lawmakers are elected from the current insensible and uncompetitive districts Ceisler wants to do away with. How exactly does he think that will happen, short of a convention (or citizen Initiative and Referendum)?

For more info on a Constitutional Convention, check out the Citizens’ Guide to a Modern Constitutional Convention, released by the Commonwealth Foundation with Common Cause/PA, Democracy Rising PA, and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania Citizen Education Fund.