TOM WARD - Improve Rhode Island by approving Question #3

TOM WARD - Improve Rhode Island by approving Question #3

Here in Rhode Island, you're either in "The Club," or you're out. "The Club" are the special interests that hold more than their fair share of power with General Assembly leaders. They might be labor officials looking for more pay, progressives looking for more civil rights, or business leaders looking to slow the flood of jobs-killing regulations.

Most of us, though, aren't in "The Club." And we are not welcome.

For this reason, I hope you'll join me in voting to Approve Question #3, for a state Constitutional Convention. It is the one important way "the people" can get their voices heard here in Rhode Island. Club members will tell you that you have power now through your legislators, but let's face it, you know better. Those who are in The Club, the protectors of the status quo, are scared to death you might rock their little boat, and mess up their comfortable world. It's the world in which the Speaker of the House and Senate President decide what government will do, or ignore. A world where a lousy last-minute legislative blizzard - mostly back-room deals - is paired with a state budget bill in the knowledge that the governor cannot "line item veto" the bad parts of the bill. It's all or nothing. This policy weakens our governor, weakens our voices, and weakens our state. It strengthens The Club.

The keepers of the status quo will not go quietly. George Nee, the Rhode Island AFL-CIO president, wrote recently "If Question 3 is approved, the floodgates will be opened to out-of-state special interests, and our Constitution could be radically altered and our rights stolen." Nee, and the ACLU, have put up the straw man argument that social activists will pare back abortion rights, same-sex marriage rights, and the rights of other minorities.

Blessedly, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin on Monday kicked the straw man to the ground, saying "If there is a Constitutional Convention, I don't think it would or should deal with cultural/moral/religious issues."

There. The Club's arguments are invalid. It's over.

Here, in brief, is how a state Constitutional Convention would likely work:

1) Question #3 needs to be approved by the people Nov. 4. If it's rejected, you're out of The Club for another 10 years. 2) The General Assembly in the next session would set the Convention's schedule and rules. Most likely, a Convention would be set for the first half of 2016.

3) A Convention would need an election for 75 delegates; one for each existing House district. That election would probably be next fall, and it would likely be non-partisan. Voters would see names on a ballot - no Republicans or Democrats - just citizens. One would be elected for each House district to serve as a delegate.

4) Delegates would debate and approve some ideas for change to our state Constitution.

5) Finally, and most importantly, the people would vote to approve or reject those ideas, probably in the fall of 2016. Delegates alone cannot change the state Constitution. Only we, the people, will be able to do that.

Those who oppose the Constitutional Convention tell us it's an unnecessary expenditure of $2 million, when the Assembly alone spends $40 million annually, with no public oversight.

I was at a recent luncheon hosted by the R.I. Center for Freedom and Prosperity in East Providence. Former candidate for governor Ken Block was speaking, and outlined a few of the common sense improvements that delegates might consider and citizens could approve. They included:

* A line-item veto for the governor (44 states have it, but not Rhode Island);

* Term limits for legislators;

* Fixing the damage to the Ethics Commission;

* Putting in place an independent commission to re-draw House and Senate district lines every 10 years (after a census) and end the discriminatory partisan gerrymandering that takes place now.

If Rhode Islanders approve Question #3, I can tell you with certainty, based on what I heard in East Providence, that there is little appetite for debating polarizing social issues. On Monday, Bishop Tobin seconded that motion.

A Convention can be about a better, more transparent and just government, about our rights as citizens. It can be as our Founding Fathers imagined; a government where the people are in charge, and legislators serve. We don't have that today. Today, we are servants.

It's time for the people to join - and then weaken - The Club. It is our civil right!

Please Approve Question #3 Tuesday.

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze newspapers