Legislators from all over the country convened just outside of Washington D.C. over the weekend to discuss the possibility of an Article V amendment convention. An Article V convention — which is very different than a “constitutional convention” — would allow states to propose amendments to the federal constitution. Four Arkansas legislators attended the weekend forum that was held at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home. I spoke with two of them.
State Representative Bob Ballinger was at the meeting and said, even though there was little substantive progress made, the meeting was still an exciting experience:
The exciting thing is that 97 legislators from 34 different states were there…It gave substance to our ideas. I’m excited to talk about this further — not because we talked about anything great or profound, but because so many people share the same vision and I think it has a legitimate shot of working.
Ballinger added that the number of states represented is more significant than the number of legislators. “You could easily get 97 legislators from four or five red states together,” but having 34 states represented is significant, Ballinger said. Interestingly, it takes 34 states to initiate an Article V convention (and 38 states to ratify any amendments that come out of the convention).
Ballinger also said the gathering was bipartisan: “There were three Democrats that were there — I wish it was more — but people who are concerned about the federal budget and runaway government.”
As for those who are concerned about a “runaway convention,” Ballinger said protective measures are being taken, adding that the consequences of doing nothing may be worse than having an Article V convention:
There’s some wisdom being put into it to make sure the scope of the convention doesn’t go outside of the Article V model. Each state, including Arkansas, will take protective measures that makes sure its delegates don’t operate outside of the guidelines.
What will happen if we do nothing is the federal government will continue to run out of control and we’ll have fiscal collapse. I am confident the federal government is out of control; I am fairly confident that this Article V convention will not spin out of control.
I would be more than willing to visit with anybody who is concerned about that because I can understand their perspective, but I think they’re superimposing a lot of erroneous things.
State Representative Nate Bell said the Mt. Vernon gathering did not focus on specific constitutional amendments that might be passed out of an Article V convention. The meeting was more informative and organizational in nature. He emphasized that there are two “divergent schools of thought” on how states should get an Article V convention rolling: the “compact” approach and a more general Article V convention:
The reason that I favor the compact is that it literally leaves no room for anything to potentially go awry. By the states entering into a compact, states have a legally-binding agreement with each other on rules, on attendants, on who the delegates are, on all of the things that everybody says they’re worried about.
Bell said, based on the writings of the Founders (such as George Mason), he’s never subscribed to the idea of a “runaway convention,” adding that even if a convention “ran away,” the products of it would still have to be ratified by 38 states before becoming law and “that’s just simply not going to happen.”
Bell said the main goal of many of the Mt. Vernon organizers is to pass all four of Mark Levin’s “Liberty Amendments.” He said he does support this effort as well, but favors the compact approach:
I am a passionate supporter of passing a Balanced Budget Amendment. So my goal, at least initially, is 100% focused on that one amendment. I think there are other things that are good things that we can do, but if we don’t fix this debt/spending situation, none of the rest of it is going to matter in the very near term anyway. So, my concept has always been: identify priority one, find out where you have the maximum amount of agreement around the country — you have to have ten blue states ratify to this thing…the only two fights that have a chance are term limits and the balanced budget.
The Mt. Vernon assembly was mainly led by people who have the ultimate goal of all four [amendments]. I am supportive of their efforts purely from the standpoint of a parallel track…At the end of the day, I’ll take a Balanced Budget Amendment regardless of how we get it. So I’m going to support that effort because I think, inevitably, whatever they do, anything that comes out of it, the only thing that passes is the BBA. I support them both, but I am most supportive of the Compact For America.
You can read more about the “compact” approach at Compact For America, although Bell cautioned that the draft language presented on their site is simply tentative. He and other legislators are suggesting changes.
As for what role Arkansas might play, Bell said the state already has existing calls for a BBA on the books.
How quickly could we see an actual Article V convention? “If we pass a compact, I think it happens within three to five years,” Bell said.
The Mt. Vernon group is tentatively planning another meeting in May. There will also be another more detailed meeting towards the end of next year.
Bell added that it’s unlikely that any movement will happen on an Article V convention in the upcoming fiscal session in Arkansas due to the high threshold of votes required to bring non-fiscal bills to the floor. However, he said he “wouldn’t rule it out.”