Washington, D.C., isn’t reforming itself, so there’s a movement to have the states do it by amending the Constitution through a provision that has never been used in American history.
Article V of the Constitution makes it possible to amend that document in two ways. First, two-thirds of both houses of Congress can propose an amendment that then must be ratified by three-fourths of the states. That’s how all current 27 amendments have been passed.
A group called Citizens for Self-Governance is focusing on another part of Article V, which allows states to apply for a convention. They’re calling the movement the Convention of States.
Supporters are hoping to gather the minimum 34 states for a convention that would propose multiple amendments that would limit the power of the federal government. Each state would have one vote. Proposed amendments would have to be ratified individually by three-fourths (38) of either state legislatures or state conventions.
Four Arkansas legislators were among about 100 lawmakers from across the country who attended a meeting about the concept at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate in January. Those were Rep. Randy Alexander, R-Fayetteville; Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville; Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena; and Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway. Alexander said an application will be introduced in Arkansas in next year’s legislative session that would have to be passed by lawmakers. Bell said he is still supportive of the effort but was "disappointed" in both the way the meeting was handled and its outcome.
Alexander said most, though not all, of the attendees of the Mt. Vernon meeting were Republicans, and looking at the Convention of States website, www.conventionofstates.com, the group’s goals clearly are conservative. The website describes four abuses by the federal government: too much spending and debt, too many regulations, congressional control of the states, and a "federal takeover of the decision-making process." Its leaders include Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association. The website suggests term limits and a balanced budget amendment as among the possible results of the process.
Even with those goals, so far, opposition is coming from the right, not the left. Some conservative groups fear a runaway convention that radically changes the Constitution.
That seems practically impossible, given that 38 states must ratify whatever is passed. More likely is that the movement will stall. The Convention of States’ own website says that more than 400 applications for an Article V convention have been made through the years, but never enough at one time to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to call the convention. Georgia has already voted yes, but in February, Virginia – a red-blue state – voted no.
For this to get out of the starting blocks, it can’t just be a Republican thing, and it can’t call for radical change. Instead, it must address an area of broad consensus among Americans. Mark Alspaugh of Hot Springs Village, the effort’s volunteer state director, points to a number of issues that are driving him, including the national debt, crony capitalism, excessive regulations and privacy concerns.
Conceivably, those issues could transcend the red/blue divide. Proposed amendments would have to be written broadly enough to gather support without being so watered down as to accomplish nothing. Or, worse, hand more power to the courts.
The United States is not on the right path, but, for now, it’s still a free and prosperous place. What’s needed at this point is not revolution, but significant and lasting reforms.
The Constitution is designed to make those reforms possible but hard to enact. The Convention of States is one avenue, though not the only one.
Something has to happen because Washington isn’t reforming itself.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.