KEY WEST, Fla. — In an era of congressional polarization and inability to deal with profound problems, a constitutional alternative is poised to take a second crucial step at the Indiana Statehouse in June.
Senate President Pro Tempore David Long has invited the second session of the Mount Vernon Assembly to convene June 12-13. Three legislators from each of the 50 states will be invited to plan the rules for a third session in December to create a first Article V Constitutional Convention. He cites polarization in Washington and its refusal to address key issues as the motivation behind his push for the unprecedented Article V convention.
“States are the laboratories of democracy,” Long said. “If something gets done properly, it doesn’t come from Washington. It comes from the states.”
“What we will be doing in Indianapolis in the second week of June is try to put the structure and rules of a convention,” Long said. “If we do have that, there will be an agreed upon process that the states, possibly through resolution, will be adopting. Here’s how you officially adopt your delegates. Here’s how we run it. In this way, no one could argue that you’ve had a runaway convention.”
The issue that has prompted this proposed convention would most likely be a balanced budget amendment. “There are a number of different ideas out there,” the Fort Wayne Republican said. “Spending and fiscal restraint seem to be the common discussion right now that almost everyone, Republicans and Democrats, can agree on.”
Long and other legislators want to refute the claim that such a gathering could result in a “runaway convention” that could careen into other topics. He said he will seek limitations on subjects, with the balanced budget amendment on the front burner. “There will be an agreed-upon process,” Long said, “The Constitution doesn’t tell you how it will be done. The reason for that is the founders believed we would be utilizing this process regularly. If you read their thoughts and how they put together the Constitution of 1787, the discussion and debate was critical. They were all experienced with state conventions themselves.”
The Goldwater Institution addresses the “runaway convention” issue, observing, “When the Founders drafted the U.S. Constitution in 1787, they specifically rejected language for Article V that would have allowed the states to later call for an open convention. Thirty-eight states must ratify any proposal from an amendments convention, requiring a broad consensus that makes sure an amendments convention cannot ‘run away.’ There have been 12 interstate conventions in the history of our country. All of them stayed within their stated agenda.”
An Article V convention has never taken place, despite its provision by the founding fathers.
Rob Natelson, the Independence Institute’s senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence, gives historical perspective to the two ways the U.S. Constitution can be amended. “Why did the founders provide for two separate methods of proposing amendments?” he asks. “Well, they thought that Congress usually would do the proposing because Congress was involved with the government and knew how well things were working. But the founders provided for this other method that would come from the states because they recognized that sometimes there would be a big problem that Congress couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with. The state application and convention method is a way of bypassing Congress. That’s its purpose.”
Long joined Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Kapenga, Republican Ohio Speaker Pro Tem Matt Huffman, Oklahoma State Rep. Gary Banz and Kansas State Sen. Caryn Tyson in calling for the summit last October that took place on Dec. 7 at Mount Vernon. All are Republicans. In a letter written to legislators in all 50 states, Long and the others explained, “In light of the federal government’s struggle to effectively execute the will of the people combined with the imbalance of power that currently exists between the federal and state governments, we respectfully request your state’s participation in a bipartisan gathering of state legislators to be known as the Mount Vernon Assembly.”
The founding fathers spent a great deal of time devising the Article V potential. Madison described limited conventions “designed to accomplish the specific purpose of proposing amendments,” Natelson said. “From that, and from Founding Era custom, it follows that the states may instruct their delegates and specify in their applications what the scope of the convention will be. So the state application and convention method is a way of bypassing Congress. That’s its purpose.”
“I truly believe the only way we are going to get control of federal spending is through this type of treatment, through intervention by the states. Congress is just too divided,” Long said. “It’s too political and it’s too polarized. They just can’t control themselves. We are much closer to the people. We have to do this for the future of our country and the future of our kids. “
Long said that after the June meeting in Indianapolis and a third in December, “It won’t be until 2015 when we start dealing with the issues to be considered.”
Howey, a former Elkhart Truth reporter, publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.