Article V planning ends in Phoenix
Gathering wanted to spur constitutional convention
The gathering of leaders from 22 states to recommend rules for what would be the first Article V convention in American history has concluded in Arizona, on what was the 230th anniversary of the states’ final approval of the U.S. Constitution.
“It is fitting that we have met here in the great city of Phoenix,” said Georgia delegate David Guldenschuh, a constitutional law attorney. “The history books will write of this convention that on this historic date we gave rebirth to a new nation.”
Now, the group must wait for at least seven more state legislatures to pass resolutions calling for a convention where they hope to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to restrict congressional spending.
The national debt hit $20 trillion Sept. 8. The states targeted are Idaho, Kentucky, South Carolina, Minnesota, Virginia, Wisconsin and Montana, several of which sent delegates to participate in the planning convention.
Seventy-two delegates spent four days in Phoenix at the Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention, slogging word-by-word through rules that ranged from whether to call participants delegates or commissioners, to how many votes each state should get during an Article V convention.
The work often was mundane, interspersed with a few heated debates over key issues, some friendly mocking among college football rivals and more than a few groans about the Arizona heat.
The rules aren’t binding for a future convention. But participants said by the end, they’d accomplished a two-pronged goal: ease fears about a runaway convention and bring more public attention to the movement.
“Do not underestimate the work we have done here,” said Arizona delegate Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma. “Sam Adams said we must start small brushfires of liberty. This is a small brushfire of liberty.”
There was no formal discussion of exact wording for an amendment. That would be the purview of the actual Article V convention.
This group in its resolution did restrict the subject of the convention to “proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States regarding balancing the federal budget” and stated that “the convention and these delegates have no authority to propose an amendment or amendments on any other subject.”
Later in the rules document, it requires approval from a majority of states in attendance at an Article V convention to propose any constitutional amendment. Each state gets one vote.
There is concern — among some Republicans and Democrats — about a runaway convention that goes beyond the balancedbudget issue and with other changes proposed to the Constitution.
Participants at the Arizona convention have said that is a primary reason for the planning convention — to do everything possible to make it clear that they are focused only on congressional spending.
“We already know about half the states going in could be averse to this,” said Arizona delegate Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, adding that the rules were developed to prevent a coup.
There was a proposal to allow a convention to change its scope with the approval of two-thirds of the states. It was withdrawn after heated debate.
Smith, who opposed the proposal,said it would have allowed, for example, California to propose eliminating the Second Amendment and the convention running with that as long as it had approval from enough other states.
It’s not unlikely, participants said, that hostile states would attend an Article V convention to try to derail the balanced-budget amendment or push other agendas.
“This is the most important thing we’re discussing here this entire week,” Smith said.
Oklahoma delegate and state representative John Bennett called the proposal a “poisoned pill.”
“We came here to make sure we didn’t go outside the scope of what we’re looking at, a balanced budget,” he said. “If we go outside that scope, it will be a disservice and disingenuous to our constituents.”
Guldenschuh said the final version of the work this week proves the states are focused on a singular task.
“The political and legal realities of a convention of states assures its deliberations will be limited to the scope of its cause,” he said. “A runaway convention is a fantasy, a myth, a diversionary argument used by naysayers to keep us from exercising our rights.”
Also among the rules discussed were other ways to assure transparency, including limiting access by lobbyists and outside groups, assuring meetings are open to the public and providing recordings of all procedures.
“You’ve heard the naysayers. They think we’re going to close the doors and change the Constitution,” said Tennessee delegate Sen. Mike Bell. “We need this to be as open and transparent as possible.”
Arizona delegate Sen. Sylvia Allen, RSnowflake, said the rules aren’t binding for any future Article V convention, but they will give that group an important starting point and save time so they can focus on crafting an amendment.
“We’ve come up with temporary rules, but you have to have something to start with,” she said. “We are pretty confident what we (got) done will be the start of the Article V convention.”
She said the Arizona convention has also given participants a chance to think about what that convention will be like and how to avoid potential pitfalls, such as how to prevent disruptive delegates who may want to derail it.
“It’s been tedious but it’s been a good lesson,” she said. “This helps us to go through the process, and get better at it.”
Arizona is among a dozen states that have passed nearly identical proposals in recent years.
But more than a dozen more have passed various versions of legislation calling for conventions over the decades.
According to the national Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force coordinating the effort, 27 states have approved qualifying resolutions. They hope the final seven, plus a few extra, could do so over the next year.
Among the resolutions passed this week is one asking Congress to call an Article V convention that convenes no later than 180 days after the 34th state passes is resolution.
Once an Article V convention is called and an amendment is developed, threefourths of state legislatures or threefourths of state conventions would have to ratify it for it to become part of the Constitution.
If seven states don’t pass resolutions within the next year, the states agreed to hold another planning convention before the end of 2018 to assess their progress.
The states also established a Phoenix Correspondence Commission that will allow states to better communicate with each other and Congress.