DeStefano urges against convention

Friday, October 17, 2008 6:23 AM EDT
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NEW HAVEN — With less than three weeks until Election Day, Mayor John DeStefano on Thursday urged voters to reject a question to hold a constitutional convention.

The question, which appears on the ballot every 20 years, asks, “Shall there be a constitutional convention to amend or revise the constitution of the state?”

Several groups are backing the convention in the hope it would implement direct initiatives, allowing residents to place constitutional questions on the ballot.

DeStefano, joined by a group of people opposing the convention, said Thursday ballot initiatives could be useful for voters to choose between Pepsi and Coca-Cola, but would not be able to address major policy issues such as health care, transportation and taxes.

Matthew Daly, however, director of the Connecticut Constitutional Campaign, which is advocating for the convention, has said direct initiatives would give voters a more direct say in politics on issues from taxes, to eminent domain, to medical marijuana and immigration.

DeStefano said he thinks state residents should only consider changing the constitution when there is an “urgent and compelling” reason for doing so, a statement with which Hartford attorney Michael Taylor agreed. The last constitutional convention, in 1965, addressed the question of voting district apportionment after state and federal Supreme Court cases ruled Connecticut’s system of forming districts was unconstitutional.

“Changing the constitution in order to make the law work for a particular group is no different from demolishing the foundation of your house so you can install a dishwasher,” Taylor said.

Peggy Shorey, campaign manager for anti-convention group Connecticut Vote No, said there is already a system in place for revising the constitution. By a two-thirds vote, state legislators can put constitutional questions on the ballot. For example, November’s election will include a question asking whether 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of a general election should be allowed to vote in a primary.

Several speakers Thursday described proponents of the constitutional convention as special-interest groups looking to outlaw gay marriage.

Daly said last week his group is “issue neutral,” focused only on passing ballot initiatives.

Another main supporter of the constitutional convention, the Family Institute of Connecticut, is eyeing the possible convention and direct initiative as one of the main ways to ban same-sex marriage, according to its Web site. In the wake of Friday’s Supreme Court decision upholding gay marriage in Connecticut, the group’s leaders said they would turn their focus to the constitutional convention.

Maureen Murphy, an attorney who worked with the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders on the case that led to the gay marriage decision, and Susan Yolen of Planned Parenthood of Connecticut also spoke out against the convention.

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