Saturday Meeting At Mt. Vernon To Talk About A Convention Of The States.

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.


  1. Charlie says:

    “This topic has become popular on the political right in recent years as frustration with DC has increased.'”

    Yes, but….damn. This response needs to be a whole column. But the bottom line is that this kind of exercise will again draw a bright line between Republicans who pound the table screaming “principle”, versus those that think it through on how to implement principle with an actual plan.

    The above isn’t a plan. It has “Zero” chance of working. It will placate those fascinated on the right that think we can somehow travel back in time, find Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to tell us we all screwed up, and then a country that elected and re-elected Barack Obama will somehow force a Congress that can’t pass a budget to pass constitutional amendments favorable to the right by a 2/3 majority, and be ratified by 3/4 of states.

    That’s quite simply not going to happen. But it’s a great exercise for those who hold out an impossible holy grail as the silver bullet that will fix everything.

    The problem with these kinds of silver bullets is that they are in guns that can never be fired, but those holding them in their holster refuse to consider any other weapon that might actually work.

    • I wouldn’t consider a convention of the states a silver bullet solution. It’s the beginning of a long and arduous process, and amending the Constitution should be arduous and take a long time. We’re talking about years to even get to the point where states legislatures are considering approval of amendments. But I wouldn’t say it has zero chance of working either.

      Measures like a balanced budget are extremely popular. Heck, the Senate came within a vote or two or sending that amendment to the states not very long ago.

      If nothing else, this will focus people on finding solutions to problems rather than playing politics to gain an advantage in the next election.

      • benevolus says:

        Let me guess… a “balanced” budget amendment would have to have an exception for war. And maybe natural disasters.

    • Noway says:

      Love that display of open mindedness and tolerance, let’s not forget tolerance. When will you begin the “tin foil hat” comments?

      • griftdrift says:

        Open minded and tolerant? You must have me confused with someone else. Mark Levin has done more to damage Republicans than any Democrat ever has. Enough tin foil for you?

      • Noway says:

        Levin and others are simply looking at a way that is, if fact, in our founding document to bring about change. Even you must agree, Grift, that Washington is pretty screwed up?

        • Charlie says:

          It’s incredibly easy to identify something that is screwed up.

          It’s even easier to listen to something you want to hear as the solution to fixing it.

          It’s a lot harder to design a plan that not only accomplishes your goals, but can actually be implemented by a general public that contains a majority that are either against you, or rationally ignorant of the needs or reasons.

  2. George Chidi says:

    If conservatives would be willing to bargain for an end to corporate personhood and constitutional limitation on the use of money in politics, I suspect they could pull in some progressives. But I still think this is a massive stretch.

    • Jon Lester says:

      I saw this week that lobbyists have spent noticeably less money on the current Congress than in years past. Apparently, some are finally realizing they’ve only been throwing good money after bad.

  3. Doug Deal says:

    This is probably the last and only chance that this country has to turn back the centralization and stratification of our country into Washington connected elite and everybody else.

    The states have power, power that they have been shamed into not using by attitudes expressed in Charlie’s commentary above. The one reason our country’s government has lasted so long and has mostly protected us is because there has been a balance between the holders of power such that any one faction gaining the upper hand was unlikely.

    Since around the time of the Great Depression this has been undone in an effort to centralize power, all in the name of “doing good”. As a result, the Federal government has been taking up more and more state functions and dictating what states must do based on poorly considered one-size-fits-all Washington solutions. The commerce clause has been expanded into a catch-all that allows the Federal Government to pretty much do anything it wants and force anyone to do anything some lawmaker or bureaucrat think best.

    When combined with the trend for Presidents to use the power of executive orders and the practice of ignoring whole parts of laws at the Presidents whim, this creates a very dangerous accumulation of power in the hands of very few people. Even when wielded for good, absolute power is tyranny. This was something that people on the left AND the right used to understand instinctively.

    An Article V convention (something I have been pushing for 10 years) will allow the states to reclaim some of this power from the Federal government in ways that can benefit ALL states and political views. For one thing, even it it didn’t get enough votes from legislators to be enacted, it could scare Congress into acting on some amendments and legislation to reign in some of the current excess of the Federal government.

    Further, nothing passed by this convention becomes law of the land until 3/4 of the states approve it. That is 38 states! This means as few as 13 states can block anything thought of as egregious. With the polarization of the country, nothing extreme will survive ratification. Likely the only things that would survive would be real limits on Federal power that allow those of the right, the left and the growing independents to equally have more freedom.

    The dangers that people obsess over are nothing that we do not already face. If anything unsavory is able to get 3/4 of the states to go along with it, we are already beyond the tipping point anyway. Further, how is this any worse than the Constitutional convention that convenes every first Monday in October. As some of you may recall, that same group basically ratified the power of the Federal government to tax you into complying with any demand it wants. Some of you may cheer because it helps your team’s centerpiece legislation, but I bet that same group would be lamenting it’s use to tax away abortion or forcing people to do any number of things that someone in Washington thinks you should be doing.

    Sadly, this topic is much too complex for the level of discourse available in a blog format, a media that is generally fed with snarky and dismissive one liners, rather than rational arguments.

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