Monday, March 26, 2007

General Constitutional Convention. I want to be there too

If there is a Constitutional Convention, and I think that there should be, I want to be there and be a part of the discussions. I support the hosting of a Convention, not because of the poorly written existing constitution. The one we have now is just fine. Rather, it is to build the grass roots awareness and engagement among citizens. And, holding a constitutional convention would give us a chance to see those in power squirm.

Those in the legislature and administration should not be able to attend.

I don't like the idea of holding a convention and having a predetermined sandbox of topics. If the Pandora's Box is going to be opened, then open it fully.

The number one need to call for the constitutional convention is to address ballot access, election fraud and other matters that are central to the vote among the people.
Contact: Tim Potts, 717-243-8570

HARRISBURG - A co-founder of Democracy Rising PA today asked the Senate State Government Committee to authorize the Commonwealth's first general constitutional convention in more than 130 years and to adopt a method for selecting delegates "to achieve the goal of fair representation for all ... segments of the citizenry."

Tim Potts said Democracy Rising PA since 2005 has collected ideas for changes to the state's Constitution. Now numbering more than 180, the ideas touch every Article of the Constitution.

Democracy Rising PA is the only group so far calling for a general convention. Others have proposed to limit the areas of the Constitution that delegates could address.

Potts said Democracy Rising PA believes it would be unconstitutional and contrary to the principles of self-governance to hold a limited convention.

To limit the convention, he said, would be "tantamount to King George telling Thomas Jefferson what he could discuss in the Declaration of Independence and to de ny that those convened in Philadelphia in 1787 could go beyond the confederation to propose to their fellow citizens a more perfect union. It bespeaks a distrust of citizens that undermines the foundation of this noble experiment."

Potts said a limited convention could forbid discussion of dozens of ideas, including:

  • imposing term limits on committee chairs and legislative leaders, an idea favored by 77% of voters, according to the recent Keystone Poll . Article II, Section 9
  • prohibiting lame-duck session, an idea favored by 82% of voters in the same poll. Article II, Section 14
  • imposing stricter procedural rules on bills that require concurrence or conference committees. Article III, Section 5
  • prohibiting judges and justices from having private meetings with members of the other branches where issues of public policy, such as the pay raise, are discussed. Article V, Section 17
  • prohibiting the use of eminent domain for private purposes. (Article I, Section 10)
  • providing citizens with the power of initiative, referendum and recall. Article I, Section 20; Article VI, Section 7
  • guaranteeing equal ballot access for all potential candidates for public office and permitting all voters to participate in all elections. Article VII, Section 6
  • permitting a graduated income tax, prohibiting property taxes and providing a dedicated funding source for public transportation. Ar ticle VIII, Sections 1 and 2
  • consolidating municipal governments and school districts and permitting revenue sharing in pursuit of regional priorities. Article IX, Section 8

"Especially at a constitutional convention, we need to take the long view," Potts said.

"What we do today can be undone by another generation if it proves to produce more harm than good. The only constant in the long view is the "inalienable and indefeasible right" of citizens "to alter, reform or abolish their government..." ( Article I, Section 2 )."

Democracy Rising PA also asked the committee to reject basing the selection of delegates on Senatorial districts because citizens have little confidence in the highly political product of the re-apportionment process of 2001. According to Potts, the re-apportionment was "based in large part on a desire to protect incumbent lawmakers and to configure as many senatorial districts as possible to be as politically safe as possible for one party or the other."

He said that delegates could be selected according to other regional divisions that are not based on political considerations but that do maintain county borders intact. He cited the 12 PennDOT districts, 46 districts for the delivery of mental health and mental retardation services and seven districts of the Department of Labor and Industry as examples.

The process for selecting delegates should use census data and statistical modeling techniques to ensure that delegates as a whole r eflect the demographic and economic make-up of the areas they represent.

If, for example, women constitute 50 percent of the citizens in a region, they should constitute 50 percent of the region's delegates. Similarly, senior citizens and those earning above or below the median income of the region should be represented by a proportional number of the region's delegates, he said.

Potts cited a Citizens' Assembly held in British Columbia five years ago as a model of this approach. Called sortition , or allotment, the process for selecting delegates dates to ancient Greece, although it is used today in Pennsylvania and elsewhere for selecting juries.

Delegates would be chosen at random from among registered voters until, on the whole, those selected accurately reflected the characteristics of the region. Anyone chosen by lottery could refuse to serve, re-opening a position for someone else who has similar characteristics.

Click here for Potts's full testimony. And here for the Constitution section of DR's web site.