ALBANY - With citizens becoming increasingly frustrated with government and its gridlock, demands for a state Constitutional convention are now being heard from more sources.
According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 72 percent of New Yorkers are fed up with recurring gridlock in the state legislature.
Faced with such a negative perception, Democratic Assembly "back-benchers" and the Republican minority leadership are pushing for a state constitutional convention. But their lobbying effort is facing opposition from majority leadership and Governor David Paterson.
Local Republican Assemblywomen Teresa Sayward and Dede Scozzafava said recently that they would support a measure that could lead to a Constitutional convention. Sayward said the public anger aimed at Albany is not only visceral, but warranted.
"People are angry and they have a right to be angry," Sayward said. "We have huge ethics problems and I don't see how we could leave ethics out of any kind of convention held."
Earlier this year, Democratic Manhattan Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh introduced legislation to authorize a limited Constitutional convention, which would address the powers of the legislative branch of the state government and the compensation structures for legislative office holders.
The Republican leadership is going even further.
Assembly Minority Leader Brain Kolb is calling for the entire state Constitution to be reopened and for a collection of citizen delegates to gather and attempt to find solutions to the many problems, both real and perceived, in Albany.
"Quite frankly, people across the state are fed up that the institutions are not fixing the problems," Kolb said. "This will at least give an opportunity for the people to have a say aside from the institutional powers that currently exist."
Kolb said that his bill - which will be ready to bring to the floor in just days - would limit the ability of politicians and lobbyists to seek Convention delegation seats.
"They way I have structured the bill is that, if you are a state legislator and want to be a delegate, you will have to give up your position as a legislator - You can't do both," Kolb said. "We are trying to make this as non-partisan and non-political as possible."
If the Kolb bill passes, the state's citizenry would vote on whether to call the convention this November. Voters would then go to the polls and elect regional delegates in 2011.
According to recent poll data, new restrictions on term limits for lawmakers and greater transparency of campaign fund-raising are several of the many concerns now being raised by New Yorkers.
Other issues of interest to the statewide voters are ethics reform in both state legislative bodies and creating methods to create citizen-forced statewide referendums - like those that regularly occur in California.
Sayward said she would like to see term limits imposed and greater restrictions on how campaign money is spent.
But the Democratic leadership in both state legislative houses and Gov. David Paterson are skeptical of calling a convention five years early.
The state Constitution requires that the citizenry vote every 20 years on whether to hold one or not. In 1997, the voting public decided, after significant lobbying from public interest groups, to not hold one.
But citizens' collective mood may have changed - and that now apparently includes political power-brokers.
Former Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo is campaigning for the Constitutional convention to be held early. And following last month's state Senate coup, former Congressman Rick Lazio is calling for the state Senate to be abolished, creating a unicameral state governmental system.
Sayward said Monday she believes the roots of the Democratic leadership's resistance stems from a fear of losing political capital.
"The majority has everything to lose, because they get stripped of their power," Sayward said. "In my estimation, there is a fine line between good leadership and power - and when it slips and you have only power, it's time for you to go."
But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that the process is a costly risk with no guarantee of producing any substantive reform. Silver declined to comment any further on the topic.
The last Constitutional convention was held in 1967, but all proposed changes stemming from it were defeated by public referendum.
However, not all Constitutional conventions have been for naught. Revolutionary measures like the 40-hour work-week and the Forever Wild Clause of the state Constitution are direct results of previous constitutional conventions.