What do you get when you cross a former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, the current Assembly Republican leader and a college professor?

A coalition of opposites, of course.

Dr. Gerald Benjamin, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and Bill Samuels joined together to form the Citizens’ Committee for an Effective Constitution. The group will focus on state constitutional reform and debate about state constitutional issues, with the goal of making New York state government more effective. 

Kolb and Samuels called it a “coalition of opposites” because of their political affiliations. (Kolb is a Republican assemblyman and Samuels has provided financial support to Democrats in the past and ran for lieutenant governor in 2010.)

“This sends a clear message that people might have opposite political views, but have mutual interest when it comes to where we can agree on how to make New York state government better,” Kolb said in an interview. 

For Samuels, teaming up with Kolb was a no-brainer. He read about Kolb’s town hall meetings discussing a state constitutional convention -- and his support for reforming state government -- and decided to reach out. 

“Brian’s been fantastic to work with. We want to get something done,” he said in a phone interview. “Reformers are both Republicans and Democrats. If we spend some time talking, we’ll come up with some good ideas.” 

A key part of the group’s launch is a website, Effectiveny.org, which features articles covering a variety of topics. Some of the topics include: Campaign finance, casino gambling, redistricting and unfunded mandates. Samuels said various views on issues will be found on the website.

“You will see different opinions. That’s healthy. That’s what we want,” he said. 

The name of the coalition comes from a group founded in Canandaigua in 1965 by Samuels’ father, Howard. 

That Citizens’ Committee was founded two years before the constitutional convention was held in Albany in 1967 and had similar goals: 

To have a bipartisan debate about constitutional issues and inform the public. The convention that year lasted four months, and the proposed constitutional changes went before the voters in Nov. 1967. Voters rejected the proposals.

 Benjamin, associate vice president for regional engagement and director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach at SUNY New Paltz, has been involved in efforts to reform state government, and has written several publications about New York state government. He sees the committee as a bottom-up approach to educating the public about state constitutional issues, which is important for New York state residents, he said.

“These are not remote and inconsequential matters,” he said. “This has an impact on their daily lives.”

The committee is also sponsoring a $1,000 scholarship essay contest. Law students are invited to participate, and the competition will focus on state constitutional issues. More details are available on the coalition’s website. 


In other news:

• New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has received key support for his legislation that could help in the fight against prescription drug abuse.

Twenty-four members of New York’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, wrote a letter to the state Legislature supporting Schneiderman’s “I-STOP” legislation. The bill, if approved, would create an online database to track frequently abused prescription drugs. 

“Given the magnitude of the problem, we urge you to support Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s proposed state legislation called the ‘Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act,’ or ‘I-STOP.’ 

The legislation would establish a program connecting doctors and pharmacists to a real time, online database to track the prescription and dispensing of frequently abused drugs. 

Prescription drug monitoring programs currently operate in 43 states, and it is time for New York to modernize its approach to addressing this metastasizing crisis for our families,” members wrote in their letter.

Online producer Robert Harding’s Eye on NY column appears Sundays in The Citizen. Head to auburnpub.com/eyeonny to read his blog. Harding can be reached at 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding

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