Taken together, most of the arguments advanced against Question No. 3 on the November ballot constitute an insult to the intelligence and integrity of Rhode Island’s voters.
By law, the question, “Shall there be a convention to amend or revise the Constitution?” must be presented to the people at least once every 10 years. Unfortunately, its treatment this year has been sabotaged at nearly every step of the process, and now is the subject of a fear campaign emanating from the State House. We will briefly list some of the objections to a convention, accompanied by what these talking points reveal about the opponents’ opinion of their fellow citizens.
• These are desperate times and we can’t afford an exercise that might cost more than $2.5 million. (Translation: Your stake in fixing longstanding problems that the legislature refuses to address isn’t worth the price of a cup of cappuccino.)
• Wealthy outsiders will come in, hijack our civil rights, and destroy public services. (Your moral convictions and social conscience are so shaky that they can be overturned by a TV attack ad.)
• The delegates we elect might turn out to be the wrong kind of people. (Equally suspect are politicians or their supporters, potential candidates, and those who might not be “accountable.” In other words, everybody.)
• We need to deal with unemployment and this will take our eye off the ball. (We can count on you to forget about things like 38 Studios, which perpetuate the state’s job-killing reputation for corruption.)
The debacle of the state’s failed loan guarantee to 38 Studios was not just a waste of taxpayer money: It exposed defects in our system, which has devolved into a duopoly. The House and Senate leaders, who are not directly chosen by the voters, have a chokehold on the public agenda and exert their authority by controlling access, information, spending, and appointments.
The system is not inefficient, in the sense that well-connected interests can engage in one-stop shopping. But it is prone to manipulation. In the aftermath of the 2010 deal, rank-and legislators said they had not been aware that most of the money was going to one business.
The last thing our leaders want is a question that could be framed as a 38 Studios referendum — hence the smokescreen. In fact, General Assembly operatives actively worked to suppress and delay information about the work of the Bi-Partisan Preparatory Commission on the ballot question. You will look in vain in the state’s 2014 Voter Information Handbook for the substance of the commisson’s report, but you will find a section on the “$2.5 million” cost, a largely bogus figure inserted by Secretary of State Ralph Mollis at the behest of the leadership. (Email exchanges detailing this directive were obtained via a public records request by J.H. Snider, an academic expert who runs rhodeislandconcon.info.) It’s probably no coincidence that Mollis, a lame duck, had been endorsed by Speaker Nicholas Mattielo for lieutenant governor. So, as a public service, we present 18 possible topics listed by the commission:
Elections: voter initiative or referenda petitions; independent redistricting commission; equal access to voting; run-off elections for the state’s general officers.
Executive: line item veto; eliminate office of lieutenant governor; create independent auditor.
Legislative: term limits; extending ethics jurisdiction to lawmakers; ban on moral obligation bonds; recording of votes; stronger sunshine law; strengthen public access.
Judiciary: reform selection of magistrates; no lobbyists on Judicial Nominating Commission; right to a jury trial for ethics appeals.
Miscellaneous: fundamental right to education; ensure women’s rights (equal pay, reproductive rights).
We join in urging a yes vote for a convention and urge supporters to get to work. It will be a tough fight against entrenched politicians and bureaucrats.