State lawmakers from around the nation spent last week gathered at the Arizona state Capitol to iron out the details of how a constitutional convention to force conservative reforms on Washington could work. The historic meeting marks a huge step in the direction of making a long-discussed convention of the states a reality.
Over the course of four days last week, the 71 delegates discussed rules and procedures that would need to be in place to ensure an orderly process for the proposal of new amendments at what would be the first constitutional convention since the nation’s Constitution was drafted in 1787.
No Democrat lawmakers attended the historic meeting. And attendees said the top priorities at a convention held in the future would be amendments to enact conservative reforms that continually fall flat in Congress: Congressional term limits and a new law forcing Congress to balance the nation’s budget.
President Donald Trump insisted multiple times on the campaign trail that he would urge congressional conservatives to produce term limit legislation.
“We’re going to put on term limits, which a lot of people aren’t happy about, but we’re putting on term limits,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with “60 Minutes” just prior to his inauguration. “We’re doing a lot of things to clean up the system.”
But Republican leaders have made clear that they have absolutely no interest in such legislation.
“I would say we have term limits now,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in response to Trump’s call for term limits earlier this year. “They’re called elections. And it will not be on the agenda in the Senate.”
There’s been nary a mention of term limits from the Trump administration in the months since.
A balanced budget amendment was a topic of considerable interest at the meeting last week, after the nation hit the $20 trillion debt mark for the first time in history earlier this month. Adding to the depressing reality of runaway U.S. debt, the milestone came after the Trump administration signaled a willingness to overspend Democrat-style with a budget compromise allotting billions of dollars for hurricane cleanup and extending the deadline for debt negotiations to the end of the year when the prospect of serious deliberation will be greatly diminished.
Balanced budget amendments proposed in Congress by Republicans like Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Mike Lee (Utah) have had little success getting attention from the establishment leadership. Likewise, term limit legislation introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) never moved despite hefty support from a slew of top conservatives and GOP control in Washington.
Because Republicans in Washington repeatedly demonstrate an inability– or, more accurately, an unwillingness– to follow through on the most basic promises to reduce government power and enact conservative reforms despite holding all the power in DC, state conservative lawmakers say its time to restore power to their constituents by whatever means necessary.
“Washington is dysfunctional. Is it going to stop itself?” Arizona state Sen. Don Shooter asked an Associate Press reporter writing about the event last week.
He added: “This is an intervention.”
An actual constitutional convention headed by the states would be accomplished via Article V of the Constitution, which provides:
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
Opponents of such a convention argue that it would open the door to dangerous meddling, potentially giving all manner of special interest groups an opportunity to pervert the law of the land with amendments born of the same sort of corruption that seeps from legislation from Capitol Hill.
Failed Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has derided the idea as a secret right-wing plan to “rewrite” the Constitution.
“There’s a big move for change coming from the right that I think would be disastrous for our country. They want radical, pull-em-up-by-the-roots change, they want to have a constitutional convention to rewrite our Constitution to make it friendlier to business, to inject religious and ideological elements,” she said in an interview with Vox.
And even some conservative organizations like the National Association for Gun Rights and the John Birch Society oppose a convention, based on the belief that a convention of the states could spiral out of control and be co-opted to undo the 2nd Amendment and other civil liberties.
Proponents disagree, arguing that the Constitution clearly lays out a road map for the states involved in organizing a convention to restrict a convention to consideration of a set topic of list of topics.
Via the Convention of States project:
Our Founders knew what they were doing when they voted unanimously to put the convention provision in Article V.10 A convention is not some all-powerful body with authority to unilaterally scrap our Constitution, though convention opponents often represent it in that light. It is a limited-purpose committee intended to give the states the ability to propose particular amendments that Congress never would. As such, the state legislatures can impose binding subject-matter restraints on the convention to ensure that it does not run away.
Attendees at the Arizona meeting last week note that the concerns of convention opponents are the reason behind their efforts to plan ahead for a convention, getting rules in place and setting a defined agenda for proposals.