Several good government groups have called for a state constitutional convention in recent months to revamp several aspects of the way the state’s operations are managed. One problem facing the reformers is a lack of understanding on how to proceed. There have only been five constitutional conventions in Pennsylvania’s history, and the last one was back in 1968. Several advocacy groups recently put together a guide explaining how a convention could get up and running, and what it might look like. Barry Kauffman is the executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. He points out there aren’t any guidelines for what form the convention would take, or how the delegates would be chosen, “I’m not recommending this, but theoretically we could have the constitutional convention live on television every night, and have people sit there with their clickers to vote, just like they do for American Idol.”
Commonwealth Foundation CEO Matthew Brouillette says he has a few suggestions as to what should be considered, “Moving Pennsylvania back to a part-time legislature, placing term limits on our House and Senate members as we do for our governor. Those, to us, would be the way to restore a citizen legislature, rather than having career politicians running our state Capitol.”
Governor Rendell and the General Assembly would need to sign off on a convention before it takes place. Proponents say that’s the biggest hurdle, since lawmakers would be reluctant to approve a session that could reduce the General Assembly’s size or impose other changes that could limit their numbers or tie their hands. Brouillette says that is a hurdle that should not exist, “I think it’s pretty clear that our constitution does give the people the power to reform, alter or abolish their government as they see fit. Those are the words to our constitution. The problem is we just have not been given the power to exercise those constitutional rights.” Barry Kauffman points out that voters elsewhere have an easier time getting a convention called, “In 17 other states the question automatically goes on the ballot every ten or twenty years: should there be a constitutional convention? And the citizens vote on it. It usually loses, but at least they have the opportunity. In a dozen or more other states, citizens have the right to petition onto the ballot.” Voters would need to approve the convention through a referendum. Any proposed constitutional changes would also be placed on the ballot.