I have to admit I get a chuckle out of the Daily News joining the chorus calling for a constitutional convention in Pennsylvania (“Constitutional Convention: Road map to reform,” December 28). For some reason, the People Paper and a few others believe there is a real possibility that the magic of 1776 will be recreated by a gathering of involved Pennsylvanians who care about good government (the way the Daily News envisions it, of course).
I think such a convention would be a political freak show.
Let’s be realistic for a moment. What kinds of people are going to run for the chance to make these important changes? Remember, those who win the opportunity will be giving up several months away from their jobs and families. And I am confident that due to the Commonwealth’s fiscal condition, there will be little (if any) compensation for that work. Regardless, paying convention attendees and staff would go against the grain of what this particular public service is all about.
As the Daily News noted last week, there was a constitutional convention in the 1960s. I can actually remember that one and knew some of the delegates – many of whom were the very people you’d want to be protected from.
Nor would the Franklins and Jeffersons show up this time around. Instead, you’ll have a room full of tea baggers, Moveon.org types, pajama-clad bloggers, single-member advocacy groups, and special interests.
Special interests? The same people that the Daily News firmly believes are responsible for the rotting of the system? You better believe they’ll be represented. Like any other political act, it’s in their interest to affect a constitutional convention, and they will be able to make sure their delegates do not lose any paydays doing so.
I can picture the scene: crazies from the left and right debating sunshine provisions with representatives of corporate Philadelphia, trial lawyers, and labor unions. What fun. But who among them would represent the average Pennsylvanian?
Proponents of this idea will demand public financing of the elections or even that the sessions be conducted online so delegates can maintain normal lives throughout process. But that’s just window dressing for an unneeded storefront.
After all, whenever there is a problem, the kneejerk reaction is to call for meetings, hearings or commissions. There has been a blue ribbon run over the last several years, with middling results at best. There’s no reason to add another – no matter how momentous or well-intentioned – to the list.
Why not? Because our General Assembly has already made substantive changes in the way they operate. Just because it’s incremental – as change often is – doesn’t mean it’s not happening. The process currently is only “broken” insofar as elected officials need an excuse for a lack of accomplishment and the media insists it doesn’t work.
The fact is that we have a constitutional convention every two years in Pennsylvania when we elect our General Assembly. It’s wrong to paint these public servants with a broad brush of self-preservation and incompetence. The vast majority is dedicated to serving the best interest of their constituencies. That dedication is not determined by party affiliation.
In fact, reforming our system of election – which wouldn’t take a convention to do – would have more meaningful consequences for the Keystone State. The goal should not be to create bulletproof safe seats or punish malcontents; rather, 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 representatives will be more middle-of-the-road and responsive to the varied interests of their constituents.
Having said all of this, there is one rational reason to convene a constitutional convention: to generate revenue for Pennsylvania. And with the bizarre collection that would gather in some location for a convention, it has all the makings of a reality television show that could surely hold its own with Project Runway or the Real Housewives of some other state.
I bet even the Daily News would buy advertising on that show.
This column was originally published in the January 6, 2010 issue of the Philadelphia Daily News