The reason the debate about a constitutional convention is happening now is because RI is constitutionally obligated to do so. The 2014 election will mark 10 years since Rhode Islanders were last asked to have a convention. Since 1984, they’ve rejected it at each election. It’s unclear how they’ll vote this time.
To some extent, the pro-convention side has been portraying this as the last chance we’ll have for the next ten years. It’s imperative that we fix our problems through a constitutional convention, and that it be done by 2016. And while that’s a good case if you assume nothing else changes, it’s a weak reason to have a convention.
- This is the first of a four-part series on a potential constitutional convention and why we should not have one this year. Read more later this week.
Legislators have the power to place the convention question on the ballot at any election. There’s many reasons why they will not, but a pretty obvious one is that there’s no constituent pressure to do so. And if there’s no constituent pressure, that means there isn’t a popular demand.
That’s a serious problem. While the convention might be the desire of outsider reformers who can’t get changes through the General Assembly, it’s not something they’re willing to push the General Assembly to do. Without that prior pressure and popular support, the pro-convention side looks less genuine in their desire to hold a convention to improve government and more like political opportunists taking advantage of a required process.
Regrouping and lobbying the General Assembly to place the convention on the ballot has numerous advantages. First, it helps build organizational capacity, which will be useful later for ensuring a serious reform faction among the delegates. Second, it enlists support before the question is required to be asked, forcing media coverage and public interest to happen before the year the question is placed on the ballot. Even if the effort is stymied for ten years, a concerted campaign will make the public far more receptive to a convention then if they’d been ignored.