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Kolb visits north country

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Here's Times staff writer Steve Virkler's report on Brian Kolb's town hall in Lowville:

LOWVILLE — The state Assembly minority leader’s two-year quest to establish a state constitutional convention brought him to Lewis County Monday night.

“It’s nonpartisan. That’s the secret,” Assemblyman Brian M. Kolb, R-Canandaigua, told about 40 people at a town hall meeting on the idea. “Nobody gets blamed for anything. Give the everyday folks a chance to speak their mind.”

Mr. Kolb, who was introduced by Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, said such a convention could address any issues that delegates wish. Personally, he would like to see things like nonpartisan redistricting, term limits for legislators and a state spending cap be considered.

“Over the last decade, New York state spending has gone up more than 70 percent,” Mr. Kolb said. “That’s your tax dollars. My tax dollars. Ken’s tax dollars.”

While a three- or four-month constitutional convention would cost $25 million to $30 million, capping state spending at the rate of inflation over the last 10 years would have saved taxpayers $30 billion, he said.

Reform may be addressed through the legislative process, but it is difficult because of partisan politics and the Albany establishment, Mr. Kolb said. Constitutional amendments are also more difficult to overturn than regular legislation, he said.

Mr. Kolb said he began his convention campaign after New York state government was ranked the most dysfunctional in the country.

“Personally, I was embarrassed to be a New Yorker,” he said. “I was embarrassed to be a public official.”

Mr. Kolb said he has held about 20 town hall meetings throughout the state to seek public support for the idea.

In January, he sponsored a bill that would set up a public vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention. A companion bill has also been introduced in the state Senate, but neither bill has made it out of committee.

Mr. Kolb called on the audience to lobby state representatives and the governor to support the legislation.

The state constitution requires a public vote every 20 years on whether to hold a convention to consider changes to the constitution, but the next opportunity for that won’t come until 2017. New York state has held nine constitutional conventions in its history, the most recent of which was in 1967.

The 1967 convention didn’t accomplish much, partly because many of the delegates were also state legislators, Mr. Kolb said.

“You basically had the same foxes in charge of the henhouse,” he said.

Under Mr. Kolb’s bill, any elected convention delegates holding another political office — from the federal to the local level — or certified as a lobbyist would have to step down from the other positions to serve in that capacity.

“It’s a sincere effort to get what I would call the normal folks and faces in the election,” he said.

Residents in each of the 62 state Senate Districts would elect three delegates, while voters statewide would choose 15 at-large delegates.

Any amendments proposed by a constitutional convention would still need to be approved by state voters before they would take effect.

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