Ar­ti­cle V plan­ning ends in Phoenix

Gath­er­ing wanted to spur con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion

The Arizona Republic - - AZ POLITICS - ALIA BEARD RAU

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.

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