With about an hour to spare on October 13, 2017, the last day to change party enrollment for the 2018 primaries, Richard L. Taczkowski, currently of Buffalo, marched down to the Erie County Board of Elections to affiliate with the yet-to-be-formed “People’s Convention” party, whose name he wrote in the space provided on his enrollment form. “I had “been debating this difficult, consequential decision for a while,” he indicated in a press release.
The former southern Erie County Republican officeholder and party leader is calling for the formation of a new political party. “With the increased unfortunate likelihood of a low turnout and a ‘No’ vote for a Constitutional Convention call [See Nov. 1 Siena Research poll], New York needs a mechanism to keep at the forefront pressure for ethical and structural reforms, and an optional future Legislature-proposed call for a convention.” (The 1967 convention call was proposed by the Legislature and approved by the people in a referendum). “Forming a political party and running a high profile New York State constitutionalist for governor (and other offices) in 2018 could garner the 50,000 votes necessary to gain permeant ballot status, which translates into influencing the debate for at least four years,” Taczkowski asserts. “An alliance with another organization, such as the Reform Party, or as part of a coalition supporting a pro-convention major party gubernatorial candidate are all possibilities, but a sustained presence on this issue is essential,” he added.
Throughout most of the 1990s, Taczkowski served North Collins, a rural community in southern Erie County, as a village trustee, town councilman, and deputy supervisor in elections that enjoyed Republican, Conservative, and Right to Life Party support. During part of that decade, Taczkowski also held the offices of GOP town chairman and member of county executive committee. During thirty years of political activity, Taczkowski played key roles in major campaigns for statewide, county, and local offices. A former Assembly staffer, he served as a delegate to the “Critical Choices” Convention held by the New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution.
Taczkowski has written numerous opinion pieces on governance in the Buffalo Courier-Express, Buffalo News, Hamburg Sun, and Gowanda News. He holds three SUNY degrees, including a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from UB, though he has been studying constitutional history for over 30 years. As well, Taczkowski has worked at all levels of government, from village to Federal. Retired from New York State and local government, he consults and writes in the areas of local history, land use, Indian affairs, as well as criminal justice/security and public policy.
A strong proponent of a “yes” vote for “Question One” on the back of the November 7 ballot, asking citizens whether to call a state Constitutional Convention, Taczkowski stated: “With most political parties and an array of interests, on both the left and the right, all aligned to convince citizens to not do an end-run around the Legislature by convening a ‘People’s Convention’ that could enact meaningful ethics and other reforms, citizens need a vehicle to keep the pressure on the Legislature and statewide elected officeholders to create a Constitutional Commission to reform the delegate selection process other constitutional amendments that would make calling a constitutional convention less vexing and risky, as some are claiming now.”
The one-time party and local government leader no longer has confidence in the ability of the major parties to represent political “outsiders” and average citizens, especially on this issue of holding a convention. He notes that parties on the conservative and liberal reaches of the spectrum are opposing such a call.
“I had thought that by remaining in an established party, I could possibly entertain the idea of running for one of three constitutional delegate seats in my Senate district, but, if this season is any indication, Republicans running during the mid-term elections next year in WNY will be tied negatively to Trump, Bannon, Collins, and Paladino. Democrats, on the other hand, will be tied to Pelosi, the Clintons, Obama, and Cuomo. How, then, is a politically aware, concerned citizen interested in constitutional reform, the common good, and things like municipal home rule, supposed to compete in this noise?” “That being reality, I thought, as a matter of conscience, I still need to do something to add voice and energy to the herculean efforts already being made to for reform the corrupt system in Albany, and to do so without getting corrupted in the process. So I decided to become an independent voter, who hopes to join with others to form a party to advocate for a Citizen’s Convention, if not in 2019, at some point in the near future.”
Taczkowski plans to float his idea before some of the most prominent pro-convention advocates before taking any further action- people like Bill Samuels, Richard Brodsky, Evan Davis. Former Chief Judge of New York Jonathan Lippman and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb need to be consulted, as well. SUNY Distinguished Professor Gerry Benjamin and former Lt. Governor Stan Lundine, both of whom I am honored to know, will be among his first calls.
“Whether it is called the ‘People’s Convention Party,’ ‘Constitutional Reform Party,’ or something else, in the event of voter approval for a convention, delegate candidates and those running on this new line for governor or any down-ballot office, can use it as a platform to call on the Legislature to amend Election Law to allow parties to authorize convention delegates to be cross-designated by petition, without a Wilson Pakula Act authorization, much as the way town and village justice candidates can run under existing law. The Legislature also could provide facilities for a convention, after first convening at the Capitol to meet in, say, Syracuse, or at a SUNY campus for part of their convention, away from the legislative session and Albany lobbyists. The Legislature could at least pass resolutions that could help insulate delegates from the influences some of those opposed to a convention are most concerned about.
If the referendum fails passage, the newly-formed party could campaign for legislatively-initiated constitutional amendments to reform the delegate selection process; convention location and duration issues; duel office holding and compensation concerns of the public, many of which Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb tried to address unsuccessfully for years in advance of this ballot referendum.
“After the defeat of the 1997 convention call referendum, I proposed the idea of forming a party and running a gubernatorial candidate to a constitutional scholar, who thought it was interesting, but did nothing about it. Not this time.” Immediately following the election, whether or not the people call a convention, as mentioned, Taczkowski will be contacting the most prominent Con Con proponents– scholars, public officials and good-government groups, and others, in order to keep alive the reform agenda; the possibility of a legislatively-proposed call for a convention; or at least a constitutional amendment establishing non-partisan, blue ribbon constitutional commission to study and make recommended amendments to allow for one Legislature, instead of two, to place the reforms on the ballot.
Let the conversation continue!