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Washington Won’t Reform Itself

The subject of the Conservative Caucus summer talk (August 1, Brandywine Hundred Library) was the case for a Convention of States to propose amendments to the Constitution. Despite a last-minute change in speaker, this event went very well.

The talk was given by Lee Mack a COS district captain from New Jersey who is in charge of getting petitions for a COS signed by voters and lobbying state legislators from his district to lend their support. Bill Truax, another COS district captain from the Garden State, advanced the slides on a computer screen monitor and participated in the discussion. Two activists – well versed in the subject – Messrs. Mack & Truax came across as convinced that a Convention of States is needed and optimistic that it can happen.

Mack began by relating how he got hooked on the COS project as a result of watching the video of a simulated convention that seemed very different from Washington politics as usual. Instead of incessant partisan sniping, the focus was on a common objective: limiting the power of the federal government.

All 50 states were represented at the convention, by a total of 137 commissioners – mostly state legislators, with a smattering of constitutional lawyers – who met in Williamsburg, VA for two days in September 2016. The action began with a general session to introduce the delegates and review the convention rules, after which the delegates broke into committees to discuss possible amendments in three areas (fiscal restraint; legislative & executive jurisdiction; term limits & judicial jurisdiction).

On Day 2, the commissioners reassembled to debate and vote on the proposed amendments. Here’s a video (6+ hours) of the action Of the six packages of amendments considered, four got more than enough votes (38 states, or over ¾) required for ratification under Article V while two fell short. There was no balanced budget amendment in the mix, and only 35 states voted in favor of the 12-year term limits (6 terms in the House, 2 terms in the Senate) proposed for members of Congress.

Instead of getting into the technicalities of a Convention of States, said our speaker, he would cover the points quickly so there would be plenty of time for audience questions and discussion.

ONE: American colonies got tired of being ruled from afar by the English elites and decided that they wouldn’t stand for it any more. They declared their independence, and made it stick by force of arms. After the Revolutionary War and one failed attempt at setting up a national government, the US established a system of national government that was cohesive enough to function but left much of the power close to the state governments and/or the people.

TWO: The constitutional system veered off course over the years, a result perhaps of Americans electing leaders to represent them and then failing to keep tabs on what they were doing. Power migrated from the states to an increasingly assertive Congress and president, which in turn delegated much of their power to executive branch or independent agencies. As a result, the lives of Americans are increasingly being controlled by officials who aren’t elected by the people and can’t be fired by them either. This situation seems untenable to many conservatives, and attempts to correct it by advocacy or persuasion haven’t proven very effective. Politicians faithfully promise to do what the people want before elections, only to do what is politically expedient thereafter.

THREE: One response might be another revolution, but happily the founders provided an alternative. Constitutional amendments may be proposed by the members of Congress, but Article V also provides – at the urging of George Mason of Virginia, who feared Congress would never be disposed to limit its own power – that the legislatures of the several states can vote for a convention to propose amendments. If 2/3 (currently 34) of the states adopt a given COS resolution, Congress is obliged under Article V to call the convention and then, presumably, allow state delegates at the convention to decide what amendments (if any) will be submitted for state ratification.

Each state involved in the COS project has been asked to adopt a common resolution, which focuses on conservative concerns: fiscal restraints, term limits, etc. This resolution has been introduced in the legislatures of 48 of the 50 states. Nationwide there are 2,700 district captains working on the COS campaign, backed up by some 80,000 committed supporters. Within a couple of years, the resolution has been adopted by both houses of the state legislatures in 12 states , with many other states to follow.

Ultimately, some blue and/or purple states must be won over if the COS campaign is to succeed. That won’t necessarily be easy, but perhaps conservatives and liberals can unite behind the idea of limiting the power of the federal government.

There is a continuing dialog with the state legislators in each district of New Jersey, which is materially assisted by getting a lot of individual petitions signed. So far, about 13,000 petitions have been signed by New Jersey voters, but the COS team is shooting for more. Even legislators who are disinclined to support the project will pay attention if the activity in their district gets intense.

No offense to state legislators, the speaker added, in a comment directed to DE State Senator Greg Lavelle. You speak the truth, Senator Lavelle responded (paraphrase), that’s how the system is supposed to work.

There was a lively question and answer session, which among other things brought out the fact that the COS structure in Delaware has not been flourishing and will probably have to be rebuilt. The COS teams from other states will help to support the repair/expansion of the existing network. It was suggested that there should be about 21 district captains in Delaware, each of whom would seek to recruit 100 volunteers.

Hmm, sounds easier said than done. But if the enthusiastic response of the Conservative Caucus audience was any indication, this task might be doable. After all, what other approaches are available that could truly cure our ailing system of government?

For convenient reference, click here for a copy of the COS petition. If you are contacted by a volunteer collecting petitions to be presented to members of the General Assembly, we urge you to sign it.

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