In addition to the US Constitution, the states all have state constitutions. In NYS, under a provision in the constitution, at least every 20 years the question of whether or not there should be a state constitutional convention must appear on the ballot. This question will appear on the 2017 ballot in November.
On July 10, 2017, I attended a debate on this issue.
Professor Benjamin of SUNY New Paltz argued that the state should hold a Convention, as it was the quickest way to address the myriad of issues that face the state, from endemic corruption to dysfunctional government.
Mrs. Sendek, a classroom teacher, argued that the convention process had a good chance of being coopted by the existing political ascendancy, becoming a (quite expensive, this is after all NYS) nullity. She argued instead that voters should support "citizen-legislators" and pursue reform through the legislative process.
Both sides presented their points effectively and made cogent arguments. I attended this presentation having no clear opinion on the issue. However, the strongest opinion I came away with was how deeply polarized the attendees were.
Professor Benjamin made a strong point that the state constitutional convention was the fastest way to address the many things that had made the state something less than the "Empire State" of his 1950s youth. Benjamin, a Conservative, made the point that many of the Progressive things that the other side wanted to preserve, protection of state worker pensions and an explicit state commitment to the needy in the state constitution, had come out of the 1938 State Constitutional Convention.
On the other hand, the process seemed to have no legitimacy to Mrs. Sendek and her supporters, the majority of the attendees. They seemed to find no legitimacy in the process itself, in part because the last such convention, approved in 1967 and held in 1969, had been dominated by the existing politicians, very expensive and produced nothing.
On the other hand, while I admired Mrs. Sendek's idealism in believing in "citizen-legislators," the people who were elected as idealistic "citizen-legislators" in 1994 as part of Newt Gingrich's Contract with America Congress, either became career politicians or left politics far short of accomplishing their goals.
The problem is a recurring one in NYS and US . . . and I dare to think world . . . politics: Legitimacy.
People know the current dispensation is not working but do not trust the available processes to change things. Thinkers like John Robb and Joshua Cooper Ramo write about this issue. Events like BREXIT and the election of Donald Trump seem to indicate a disaffection from the status quo. As Yeats wrote about a century ago:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
People like Mark Levin with his Convention of States/Article V Convention idea and, to a lesser degree, Professor Benjamin with his support for a NYS Constitutional Convention, stake their hopes on a centralized process that too many people have no faith in. People like Mrs. Sendek put faith in honest individuals, which is surely the slimmest reed of all.
This is a troubling question. As Michael Shaara has a character say in his novel The Killer Angels, "And the same for your adversaries: Meade, Hooker, Hancock, and - shall I say - Lincoln! The same God, same language, same culture and history, same songs, stories, legends, myths - different dreams. Different dreams. So very sad."
I think, unfortunately, we are again approaching the land of "different dreams."