Another Point Of View: Nothing Unconstitutional About Letting The People Decide

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,I,C-Batavia)

An article recently graced the pages of this publication in which the author questioned the constitutionality of Assembly Bill 1964. The legislation, which I sponsor, seeks to give local governments the option to provide a referendum on the question of “Do you support the division of New York into two separate states?” In the spirit of democracy and political discourse, I would like to make the case for why this bill is not only constitutional, but also important and beneficial to Western New Yorkers.

First, the United States Constitution in no way prohibits the division of an existing state into two, separate entities. Tighter restrictions are placed on a state’s ability to secede from the Union entirely, but history has shown time-and-time again that states with a compelling case for independence can achieve that sovereignty. We need look no further than our own region here in the Northeast to see examples of the constitutionality of state secession, with Maine having been born out of existing larger states carved out by our Founding Fathers. As you travel further south, you come across places like West Virginia that broke away from their pre-destined geographic counterparts and forged their own identity, giving them the ability to govern to their needs and specifications.

Furthermore, the legislation that I have sponsored is, at its root, a matter of local control. This bill does not seek to immediately divide Upstate and downstate New York into two separate states. It doesn’t even seek to place the issue on a ballot initiative to the public. Rather, this legislation would authorize local governments to have the option of providing a referendum on the question. State government can only craft policy after gauging local support for an initiative. The one-size-fits-all mold of government has failed Western New Yorkers time-and-time again. The fact is New York is led by a governor from New York City, an assembly speaker from New York City, and a senate majority leader from Long Island. Upstate New Yorkers are lacking a voice at the top of state government, and this bill is intended to make sure that we are heard at the Capitol.

As an avid history buff and proud American, I am always interested in a healthy debate about the Constitution and the true role government plays in our daily lives. That is why I believe it is so important that we allow the people to decide if they agree with the status quo, rather than politicians. Allowing local governments to provide a referendum on the question “Do you support the division of New York into two separate states?” would do just that.