Russell Moore: Constitutional Convention: Just Say Yes!

Monday, July 07, 2014


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If you think Little Rhody's government is just dandy, than by all means, oppose a constitutional convention.

And Lord knows, there are people that think this state is run efficiently, effectively, and ethically. There apparently are also people who watch The Kardashians.

However, if you're like the vast majority of people I know, and believe that the state government, to quote Jack Nicholson from his portrayal of The Joker in the 90’s campy Batman flick, "needs an enema", than it's time for a Constitutional Convention.

Not a panacea

The state constitution currently mandates that voters must be asked, via referendum, whether or not the state should hold a Constitutional Convention. If the voters affirm the convention, than a special election is set up. In that election, there's one delegate from each representative district selected. That delegate represents said district. 

The convention then convenes and votes on changes to the state constitution. Those changes then go back to the voters again, who can affirm or reject what the convention proposes.

Make no mistake about it: the Constitutional Convention will not be the great panacea that cures all that ills our great little state. But, to use a football analogy, if done correctly by the right people, (and that's key), then it would move the ball up the field, so to speak.

Ethics reform, Term Limits, and more!

For instance, the constitutional convention could recommend several useful changes to the constitution that we need--like blood. Namely, the Lieutenant Governor and Governor could be combined on a single ticket with the Governor, the General Assembly could be made subject to the RI Ethics Commission (there's a measure to do so on this year's ballot, but given that good government groups are opposing it for some reason, it may fail), and the Governor could be given a line item veto just like governor's in 44 other states.

In the same respect, the only way we're ever going to be able to enact term limits for members of the state legislature is through a Constitutional Convention.

Those in opposition to the convention say that the legislature can do anything that the convention would. That's true, but there's an issue of practicality. Only the most naive among us would believe that the General Assembly would be willing to set term limits for themselves. We'd sooner see Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian have the guts to run for higher office before that happens.

Don't be fooled again

The last time the measure went before voters was in 2004, and they rejected it by a small, but still comfortable margin of 52-48. Despite the fact that it's needed like blood, the voters may yet again turn it down due to the well-organized opposition.

The real problem is that when the average voter sees someone like uber statehouse lobbyist Richard Licht get appointed a Superior Court Judge by a Governor who ran on a platform of rooting out cronyism, they think about a Constitutional Convention as just more government. The danger is that Joe Public views this as a mechanism to stack the deck against the average guy.

Well-meaning, but misguided opposition

Here's another surefire mechanism to be certain that a constitutional convention will be a positive development for our state--the vast majority of special interest groups in Rhode Island oppose it. When you have groups with diametrically opposed viewpoints as the Rhode Island Tea Party and the Rhode Island Chapter of the AFL-CIO agree on a position, it's probably a good idea to take the opposite position. I jest, of course, but the opposition is surely well-meaning, but misguided, in my humble opinion.

Don't get me wrong: those opposing the constitutional convention, such as the Rhode Island Chapter of the NAACP and the ACLU, who are concerned about minority rights, do have valid concerns. Their concern for protecting the rights of minorities and gay marriage is understandable.

Yet the fact remains that the majority of Rhode Islanders share their concerns. It wouldn't, but if the convention ever did decide on a measure that would reverse gay marriage or restrict the rights of minorities, the state's voters would reject the changes. Their driving skills are horrific, but the vast majority of Rhode Islanders, at their core, are good people who recognize that the state's diversity is one of our strengths.

Say yes!

With these facts in mind, let's hope Rhode Island voters ignore the spin and affirm a constitutional convention. It's a mechanism to move the state in the right direction and good would likely come of it.

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A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.


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