This past August I attended the National Conference of State Legislators(NCSL) meeting here in Atlanta. One of the great things about these types of conferences is the chance to meet Legislators from other parts of the country and talk with them about how things are in their states. I find it fascinating how different states approach state and local government.
As I was standing in line to register at NCSL I struck up a conversation with a state Senator from Hawaii. We talked briefly about how our states are organized and then she blurted out “if we could get Washington to leave us alone, we be a lot better off.” I was surprised. This Senator was a self-proclaimed progressive Democrat from a state that only elects Republicans by accident, and she wanted the federal government out of their business.
A few weeks ago I received an email from something called the “Mt. Vernon Assembly.” The email called for a meeting of State Legislators on Saturday December 7 at George Washington’s estate in Virginia. The meeting is for currently elected Legislators only, non-Legislators will not be allowed in the room. The purpose of the meeting, according to the letter, is to “foster communication between the states” and “discuss and consider a Convention of the States in 2014 that is solely focused on the task of writing the rules for an Article V Convention.”
So what’s this all about? What is an “Article V Convention.”
Article V refers to Article V of the U.S. Constitution which says:
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.
So when people refer to an Article V convention they are talking about a Convention for proposing Amendment to the Constitution called for by two-thirds of the several states.
This topic has become popular on the political right in recent years as frustration with DC has increased. Recently, Mark Levin wrote a hot selling book on the subject, complete with his suggestions for Amendments.
I know of at least 11 Georgia Republican Legislators, myself included, who will be in attendance.. I don’t know if any Georgia Democrats will be there, but the organizers of the Mt. Vernon meeting are hoping Democrats attend the meeting as well.
This doesn’t have to be, nor should it be a right-wing thing. As I mentioned above, even some left-wing Legislators want their states to be free to govern as the people in their state desire without federal interference. In my opinion, given the high threshold needed to amend the Constitution, we’re likely to see only Amendments succeed that enjoy strong bi-partisan support – things like a balanced budget or Congressional term limits come to mind. There would be a lot of things I’d like to see done, and I’ll be fighting for them, but I’ll need the support of Democrat-led states if the Constitution is to be amended. In other words, the by making it hard to amend the Constitution, the Framers built in a protection against radical change. The people will need to support a proposed Amendment overwhelmingly in order for it to be enacted.
Unfortunately, I’ve been told Democrats have been urged to stay away from the Mt. Vernon Assembly. I hope this isn’t true. I did notice this post on the Daily Kos which is not favorable to the Mt. Vernon Assembly and it’s aims.
So why go through with it? Isn’t this a fools’ errand? Perhaps, but given the fiscal mess we find ourselves in and the political stalemate in Washington, I believe states need to play a larger role in national politics. We can debate what that role should be but I doubt you’d find many people, on the right or the left, that think our national politics is working well now, nor has it for some time. Given that Article V is in the Constitution and spells out a roll for the states in amending the Constitution, we ought to explore that option, and I’m going to Mt. Vernon to be a part of that conversation.