Tag Archives: COS

Defeat of Con-Con in Texas Will Spur Other State Efforts

Written by  for THE NEW AMERICAN MAGAZINE

In Texas, we’ve affectionately dubbed the state’s biennial legislative meeting the “Lege.” But by Lege’s end, one group wasn’t feeling the love. A highly contentious issue over, of all things, the U.S. Constitution was responsible.

Of all the important measures considered this year, the proposal of an Article V constitutional convention (or “con-con”) was perhaps the least understood among Lege watchers.

The effort calls for a national convention to propose new amendments to the U.S. Constitution. But by the June 1 adjournment of the Texas legislature, proponents of the effort were fuming over the measure’s failure, while those in opposition were preparing to saddle up for the real work: educating more folks on the dangers of such a convention.

One well-placed legislative aide quipped that he was bumfuzzled by the sheer number of bills filed this session, particularly those dealing with an Article V convention, given the make-up of this year’s body. Why? This year’s crop is believed to be more conservative than ever, wanting less government and fewer regulations, so one would think the body would reflect that, right? But this batch filed more bills than previous legislatures of a more liberal bent. Go figure. State Representative David Simpson called it “an avalanche of bills,” this year’s total clocking in at 6,276.

As to the article V convention, supporters and critics agree that Americans face grinding national debt, a combative executive branch, spineless congressional members, and government gone off the rails. So the solution offered by a con-con seems at first glance a quick fix for an urgent problem.

But opponents point out that such a convention could put at risk the solid tenets of the nation’s founding document.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution, and the ensuing debate surrounding a call for another constitutional convention have been extensively examined by The New American for over three decades. While the idea’s not new, this latest round of activity exposes an unprecedented level of organization by national groups to garner sufficient support for a convention. Indeed, it could now be called a movement.

So what happened in Texas? The state has long been considered critical for the con-con movement’s success. A bellwether state, it has a biennial legislature, so it was more than a little important to proponents of the measure that it pass Lone Star muster this year — that is, if national momentum wasn’t to be lost.

Well-organized national groups such as WolfPac, Americans for Congressional Reform, the Madison Coalition, and Compact for America, all had a presence in the Texas capital of Austin this year, but none had the high profile exhibited by the additionally well-funded Convention of the States (CoS, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance), which had been lobbying lawmakers for 18 months preparing for 2015’s opening day.

Despite the pro-con-con pressure, T.J. Scott, a well-known state Republican activist, Travis County precinct chair, and former member of the State Platform Committee, doesn’t see Congress abiding by any new amendments resulting from an Article V convention. He declared,

They don’t live by the document as it is! One of the goals of Article V convention folks is a Balanced Budget Amendment. Well, we have that in Texas, but we have the third largest debt in the nation. How does that happen if you have a law requiring a balanced budget? Off-budget items is how! The federal government will use smoke and mirrors to circumvent a balanced budget, just like happens in Texas.

I don’t think these reps [authors of Article V bills] really believe a convention will solve the problem, but they’ll be able to say they tried. I’ve questioned Paul Workman (R) [author of HJR 79, a bill calling for a convention for the purpose of proposing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution] about the Balanced Budget Amendment, and how it doesn’t work in Texas. He waffles and can’t answer how it will be any better at the federal level.

Eight (depending on your count) different bills relating to an Article V convention were filed and entered the legislative pipeline. But as the initial committee hearings got underway, critics say some interesting things began to happen.

The first hearing in the House State and Federal Power and Responsibility Committee, limited to invited “expert” testimony (not the public), involved speeches from five witnesses, four of whom were in favor of an Article V convention, and were also from states other than Texas. Of those four, three witnesses didn’t get the measure passed in their own states, and the fourth voted for TARP — hardly something you’d want on your curriculum vitae when advocating the goal of fiscal responsibility in someone else’s state.

The presence of out-of-state witnesses (added to contacts in representatives’ offices from out-of-state volunteers) was a puzzler — until one considers the fact that a concerted national effort is needed to achieve simultaneous passage of con-con bills in the required 34 states.

Left unanswered is why state representatives should be influenced by anyone other than their own constituents.

And more than a few eyebrows were raised about the fact that the committee chairman, Representative Phil King, is also a national chair of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which advocates a constitutional convention. And so the fact that King was hearing his own bill in a committee he chairs, for the very goals pushed by ALEC, had some pundits observing that it was simply too close to a conflict of interest for comfort.

Be it noted also, that while CoS decidedly claims a “convention of the states” is not the same thing as a constitutional convention, Representative King himself used the terms interchangeably in the authorship of his con-con bill — one of those being considered.

About mid-session, a different late-night committee hearing was cancelled for lack of a quorum. That left representatives from WolfPac, who had flown from the East Coast to testify, seething. Understandably, if you fly that far, you want to be heard. The Texas state director acted quickly to calm the situation. None of WolfPac’s supporters opted to talk with The New American. The group has its own Article V agenda, one to promote free and fair elections, with a goal of “starting the conversation.” WolfPac’s policy, however, is not to engage other media, and the East Coasters were left to try another day. But the possibility the committee would be influenced by even more outsiders began to irk attendees.

Supporters of the effort for a constitutional convention claim to be largely conservative Republicans, but the issue divided both chambers regardless of party or ideology. One weary Democrat had the most practical objection we heard all session: “If these well-organized groups put all the effort they’ve spent in organizing this toward actually electing good representatives, we wouldn’t need this thing.”

The general tenor of Article V cheerleaders is one of urgency driven by a “last, best hope” theme, but it falls short under serious examination. Opponent Barbara Harless of North Texas Citizens Lobby attended multiple hearings and discovered that many CoS supporters were unfamiliar with the Constitution they claimed to be there to defend. She observed,

If people would read and understand our Constitution, I can’t help but think they’d be surprised that the answers for the nation’s problems are already in the document! It’s frustrating to find that so much energy and effort has been expended by folks who haven’t even read it!

Indeed, we found across the board an unwillingness to entertain any invocation of the 10th Amendment, nullification, or interposition — all constitutional remedies — by con-con proponents.

And an even more dangerous situation exists that went largely unheeded by the House. Texas carries an unlimited call for a constitutional convention, it having remained open since 1899. Should a modern convention be called, there’s nothing to restrain delegates from invoking the unrestricted feature of this previous call, rendering promises of a limited convention meaningless. A bill to close this loophole died in committee.

And in the final Senate hearing, another out-of-stater, former Georgia state Rep. Delvis Dutton, appeared to testify in favor of HJR 77 in what would be the last shot for the most substantive of the convention bills. The hearing proved the death knell for the bill, especially after committee member Senator Craig Estes (R) addressed the committee, expressing, in no uncertain terms (at the seven-minute mark) that he had no intention of supporting the bill, and every intention of filibustering it if necessary on the Senate floor. After which Dutton told a group that the Texas Senate “is disgusting,” citing his inability to get an audience with senators. It was uncertain why he expected one, but disgusted he was, and accused some activists of being closed-minded about the whole question.

Senator Estes’ remarks were so unfavorable to Article V fans, and prompted such outrage among them, that national CoS director Mark Meckler penned a vitriolic national response on the CoS website, and radio personality Mark Levin resorted to his signature name-calling.

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=1m0gm1a3Llc

The invective delivered about the Senate was unnecessary, and strategically unfortunate. Texans in opposition to an Article V convention don’t understand how these folks hope to gain ground by insulting members of the Lege. CoS agreed to talk with The New American about the bills, but had not returned our call by publication time.

While CoS claims to have pounded the Texas Senate with more than 22,000 e-mails in one week, supplied thousands of petition signatures, and more thousands of phone calls to lawmakers, the group had its nose out of joint that its “majority constituency” was ignored. However, as many supporters as the bills had, there were that many more Texans who are against this effort. Maybe lawmakers did listen to their constituents.

In Dutton’s railing against the Texas Senate, he told his listeners that Americans should be trusted to do the right thing in forcing a convention to restrict itself to limited amendments. But these same Americans are the ones who elected the current, hopeless batch we call Congress.

After running the gauntlet of this year’s legislature, Ms. Harless opined that an informed electorate would go a long way. “If people understood a 34-page Constitution as well as they understand a 200-page NFL Rule Book, the government would be self-restraining. There’s no need for this,” she explained.

Many Americans have depended on The New American for solid research about an Article V convention. The John Birch Society, its parent organization, has unwaveringly scrutinized this issue for three decades, and always advocates for an informed electorate. We say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Expect more activity on the Article V front in the next legislative session in your state.

 

Falsehoods Mark the Campaign for a Constitutional Convention

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzyWl_0eTB4&feature=player_detailpageby JBS President John F. McManus

For one excellent reason, The John Birch Society has always opposed the creation of a constitutional convention (Con-Con) as authorized in Article V of the Constitution. The Society isn’t opposed to amendments and would support any that would cancel existing Amendments 16 (Federal Income Tax) and 17 (Popular Election of Senators). This could be done via the other route to adding an amendment noted in Article V, the passage of the measure by two-thirds of each house of Congress and then ratification by three-fourths of the states. This is the only route to adding an amendment that has ever been employed in the 228 years of the Constitution’s existence.

Willis Stone wrote the original Liberty Amendment 50+ years ago. Image from Old Politicals Auctions.

Having both houses of Congress agree to an amendment before sending it to the states for ratification is the safe route to adding any amendment. It was the route taken when Amendment 18 (Prohibition) was erased by Amendment 21. A Con-Con, however, would open the entire Constitution for change, even total erasure – which is what occurred in 1787 when a Con-Con assembled under the Articles of Confederation met with the sole assignment to revise the Articles. But because a Con-Con cannot be limited, America’s Founders used the power any Con-Con would have and scrapped the Articles. They then proceeded to write an entirely new Constitution, even changing the state ratification requirement from unanimous (under the Articles) to three-fourths in the new Constitution. Such a runaway could happen again because a Con-Con can’t be limited.

Most of today’s proponents of a Con-Con want to use it to add a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Calling their proposal a “Convention of the States,” they claim that it can be limited. But, in reality, what they claim for a Convention of the States is a nothing but a Con-Con which can’t be limited to a single topic. Some of these proponents also claim that John Birch Society Founder Robert Welch and Congressman Larry McDonald, his 1983 successor, advocated the Con-Con route in favor of the “The Liberty Amendment.” This proposed amendment, written more than 50 years ago by Willis Stone, is a brief proposal whose most appealing feature would require the federal government to divest itself of every “business, professional, commercial, financial or industrial enterprise except as specified in the Constitution.” The money saved would enable the Federal government to abolish the federal income tax – another clause in the proposed amendment.

But neither Robert Welch nor Larry McDonald nor this writer (current JBS President) has ever advocated a Con-Con on behalf of the Liberty Amendment or any other amendment. After sponsoring Willis Stone for a speech in 1965, I became quite friendly with him (he is deceased). He even implored me to accept appointment as a state chairman for the amendment; a request I declined because I was already overloaded with other commitments. But I discussed the matter with Mr. Stone at length and knew that his plan sought to have state legislatures pass a resolution asking Congress to create a Con-Con was simply a tactic to call attention to his proposal. He very clearly explained to me that he feared a Con-Con. He expected that members of Congress, themselves fearful of what might happen if a Con-Con were created, would use their Article V authorization to propose the amendment directly and singly in both houses of Congress (the alternate method for starting the amendment process spelled out in Article V). When the number of state legislatures calling for a convention approached 34, he was certain that Congress would act and turn to the far safer portion of Article V to accomplish the first step toward passage of the Liberty Amendment.

I vividly recall questioning Willis Stone about the danger that 34 states would indeed call for a Con-Con. I noted that if that number of state applications for a convention were reached, then the Constitution requires that Congress “shall call a convention for proposing amendments.” He emphatically assured me, “No, I don’t worry about that because no one is stupid enough to want a Con-Con. We know what happened when the Con-Con met in 1787; its members cancelled the Articles of Confederation. If a Con-Con were held today [1965], it could and likely would lead to cancellation of the present Constitution and put in its place something far different.”

I know that Robert Welch never wanted a Con-Con. I know of no JBS official who wanted it. I never discussed the matter with Larry McDonald, but I’m sure he discussed it with Robert Welch. Anyone who claims that JBS leaders (past or present) ever intended to have Congress create a constitutional convention either doesn’t know what he or she is talking about or is being deceitful.


Mr. McManus joined the staff of The John Birch Society in August 1966 and has served various roles for the organization including Field Coordinator, Director of Public Affairs, and now President. He remains the Society’s chief media representative throughout the nation and has appeared on hundreds of radio and television programs. Mr. McManus is also Publisher of The New American magazine and author of a number of educational DVDs and books.

And from Arthur Thompson, CEO of the John Birch Society comes this video on the dangers of a Constitutional Convention.