The 110-degree heat in Phoenix only served as the backdrop but inside the air-conditioned House chamber at the Arizona Capitol last week, the debate was just as hot. Delegates from twenty-two states met to hammer out details of a radical resolution. The monumental agreement could lead to an amendment to our Constitution forcing Congress to restrict spending.
The best part is that the amendment will be written and enacted entirely by the states, cutting Congress totally out of the loop. Seventy-two delegates from across the United States spent four days hotly debating rules for our nation’s first Article V Constitutional Convention.
George Mason was a champion of State’s rights before there were any states. He looked into his crystal ball and knew someday a swamp of corruption would creep into the new and shiny government they were carefully crafting. To the annoyance of all the other founding fathers, he refused to sign the Constitution until it included a safeguard remedy the people could use when the time would eventually come. After fighting long and hard, Article V was included and Mason signed. Thanks to the stubborn patriot, the states can band together and wield a power normally reserved for Congress, amend the Constitution itself.
Like any safety precaution panic button, the founding fathers made the emergency over-ride difficult to trigger. You have to break the glass first. To get to an Article V Convention of States, you need thirty-four state legislatures to pass an identically worded resolution.
Winding up events exactly 230 years to the day after the states gave their final okay on the U.S. Constitution, David Guldenschuh, who is a constitutional law attorney and the delegate from Georgia, proudly proclaimed “The history books will write of this convention that on this historic date we gave rebirth to a new nation.”
Thanks to the Convention of States project, the idea has been slowly and steadily gaining momentum over the past few years. The challenges faced so far have allowed everyone involved to refine the tactics and the message to sooth the fears of state legislators. So far, 27 states have either fully come on board or are leaning toward the idea. Seven more will push the effort over the top and several of those sent delegates to the conference to watch closely.
Focusing entirely on the rules for a proposed Constitutional Convention, the delegates went through them word-by-word. Should participants be called “delegates” or “commissioners” and how many votes would each state get were two of the questions. Even though the results are not binding and the work was tedious and mundane, arguments and flare-ups raged over some key points. In the end, everyone was much more at ease with the whole process and ready to take the idea home to the public they represent.
With the National debt blasting past $20 Trillion this month, wrangling it under control is something that the vast majority of Americans can get behind. Our elected officials have shown they have little interest in taking up the challenge.
Restricting the subject of the whole convention to the single item of “proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States regarding balancing the federal budget” goes a long way to relieve the fears of a “runaway convention”
Delegates won’t be able to hijack the proceedings and re-write the constitution. They agreed on rules that clearly spell out “the convention and these delegates have no authority to propose an amendment or amendments on any other subject.” The only amendment they are allowed to pass is one requiring Congress to balance the budget.
The runaway convention issue was the primary reason for holding the rules conference. “We already know about half the states going in could be averse to this,” Arizona delegate Sen. Steve Smith, (R-Maricopa) explains. “The rules were developed to prevent a coup,” he adds. Smith was against a proposal to allow delegates to alter the scope of the convention on a two-thirds majority. Triggering fierce debate, the idea went down in flames. Smith points out that a state like California could propose eliminating the Second Amendment and if enough other states went along it could happen. “This is the most important thing we’re discussing here this entire week,” Smith asserts.
Oklahoma delegate John Bennett agrees. “We came here to make sure we didn’t go outside the scope of what we’re looking at, a balanced budget. If we go outside that scope, it will be a disservice and disingenuous to our constituents.”
“The political and legal realities of a convention of states assures its deliberations will be limited to the scope of its cause,” observes David Guldenschuh. “A runaway convention is a fantasy, a myth, a diversionary argument used by naysayers to keep us from exercising our rights,” he said. “It’s been tedious but it’s been a good lesson,” Arizona delegate Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake commented. “This helps us to go through the process, and get better at it.”