Oct. 17, 2017

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Kowal debates strong case against con con

uupdate 10-17-17

CLICK HERE to watch video of part 1 of the debate

CLICK HERE to watch video of part 2 of the debate

If New Yorkers vote for a constitutional convention in November, they will have to deal with an expensive and disruptive distraction months before the next presidential election – and just as their focus should be on the dysfunctional administration in Washington.

UUP President Fred Kowal made that forceful case against a constitutional convention in an Oct. 16 debate at SUNY New Paltz, where he countered the pro-con con views of his debating partner, Gerald Benjamin, with facts, figures and a strong delivery. Above, Kowal, left, answers a question during the debate, as Benjamin listens.

“I would like to know how we will all have input to develop proposals, and then turn those proposals into action,” Kowal said. “No one knows how deals will be struck. The money needed to run this convention would be better spent for an entirely different purpose. I think New York is being sold a quick-fix scheme. In order to achieve any progress in New York state, the focus needs to be national.”

Benjamin, a political scientist and former dean at New Paltz, directs the Benjamin Center at the college, which supports public policy research and regional engagement among diverse groups in the state. He bases his outspoken support for a constitutional convention on the need to correct what he calls New York’s "broken government."

UUP New Paltz Chapter President Beth Wilson and K.T. Tobin, associate director of the Benjamin Center, co-moderated the debate.

Trickle-down policy upheaval

While not disputing that state government could work better at times, Kowal pointed out that even the most functional legislature would still have to deal with a federal government that is upending policies on health care, civil rights and public education.

Great uncertainty also looms around the vaguely defined Republican tax overhaul. All of this upheaval is already affecting the flow of federal money into New York that is needed for public education and health care, including care provided by the SUNY hospitals.

UUP estimates that a constitutional convention could cost $50 million to $100 million.

Outsiders may push right-wing ideas

Many of the well-funded right-wing organizations that have pushed an ultra-conservative agenda in the Trump administration could take advantage of a constitutional convention to press the causes of the charter school and fossil fuel industries at the expense of public education and the constitution’s “Forever Wild” clause that protects public lands from development, Kowal said.

“A constitutional convention sounds like the panacea to all our problems,” Kowal said. “My feeling is that it is a mirage, and a dangerous one at that. There would be no transparency. There is also no accountability. At the end of the day, the delegates don’t have to answer to the people of New York.”

New York residents will vote in November on whether they want a constitutional convention. Delegates will be selected a year later, again through the ballot in the general election, and a convention would most likely begin in April 2019.

UUP members are working hard to educate voters about why a constitutional convention is such a bad idea. For more information and ideas on campus activities to oppose the convention, go to the UUP website home page and click on the red and grey box that says "Constitutional Convention Info."

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