As state legislators from across the country prepare to gather this weekend at President George Washington’s historic Mount Vernon estate, the agenda to be discussed—the possibility of amending the U.S. Constitution—remains a point of interest in the Gem State.
While some members of Idaho’s Legislature have been working toward this goal for several years, others vehemently oppose the idea and express fear of what may result with such an attempt.
“Over the last three legislative sessions I've proposed bills regarding both the subject matter for a convention, and procedurally how Idaho would select delegates for a convention,” said Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Boise. Commonly referred to as a constitutional convention, McKenzie’s goal is to involve Idaho in what is more technically known as a “convention for proposing amendments.”
According to Article V of the U.S. Constitution, there are two pathways to amending the U.S. Constitution. One is initiated through the U.S. Congress itself, where two-thirds of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate agree on amendments, followed by ratification of those amendments by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states.
The other approach begins at the state level, where the legislatures of two-thirds of the individual states ask Congress to call “a convention for proposing amendments.” In this scenario, states would send delegates to this convention to propose amendments, after which the legislatures of three-fourths of the states would have to ratify any amendments approved by the convention, either by a vote of the legislatures or through special ratifying conventions.
McKenzie believes that there is growing support for such a convention. “I definitely think there's been a shift in the mindset among the people regarding states’ rights,” he commented. “People are more concerned about the expansive nature of our federal government and the need for the states to put some controls on it.”
But other members of Idaho’s Legislature are vehemently opposed to the idea of an Article V convention.
“I have never been in favor of this,” said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale. “I am too fearful that it would be a runaway convention. People have tried to assure me that it won’t happen, but they haven't convinced me.”
For his part, McKenzie’s last legislative effort to involve Idaho in an amendments convention was entitled the No Runaway Convention Act (which can be viewed HERE). He intends to introduce legislation again next year that would specify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require a balanced federal budget, and also to propose legislation that would require Idaho delegates to only support that amendment proposal. “It’s the federal spending problem that primarily drives me with this,” he told IdahoReporter.com.
Yet Boyle remains opposed to the idea. “I don't know that there would be amendments proposed at a convention like this, so much as there might be a complete change made to our Constitution,” she said. “I know people mean well, but I'm not willing to risk our Constitution. I'm not sure that people who have the best interests of our freedoms at heart will be those who are appointed to be a delegate to a convention like this.”
Boyle is not alone in her opposition.
Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, told IdahoReporter.com that “there is just no way to control the outcome of a convention. It’s difficult to see that we have sufficient numbers of principled people who would want to preserve our Constitution in the midst of a process like this.”
As a precursor to a convention for proposing amendments, Wisconsin state Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, has undertaken the task of organizing the meeting of state legislators from across the nation for this weekend. “On Dec. 7, we’ll be gathering at Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington,” he explained, adding his intent for the gathering is to “start a movement of the states that would give voters hope that the government still gets its power from them, and not the other way around.”
John Runft, a private practice attorney in Boise who has actively supported a convention to propose amendments, is pleased about the Mount Vernon gathering. "It's a good beginning, but they've got a long way to go to do it right." Runft believes that concerns of a "runaway convention" are unfounded, and laments that such concerns have thwarted Idaho's efforts in the past to engage such a movement.
"Our Legislature had the bills ready to go three years ago, but the far right defeated it,” said Runft. “It's a shame that our Founding Fathers provided the means to amend our U.S. Constitution, yet some in Idaho and across the country are afraid to utilize those very mechanisms provided by the founders for reigning-in the excesses of the national government."
Some legislators in Idaho and elsewhere attribute “The Liberty Amendments,” a book from author and constitutional scholar Mark Levin, as providing inspiration for a convention.
Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, told IdahoReporter.com that “people seem to be motivated by the book, but I get plenty of messages in all directions on this issue. Some that favor, and others that oppose the idea of amending the U.S. Constitution.”
Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, will attend at Saturday’s Mount Vernon gathering. Hagedorn is focused on excessive government spending in Washington and desires an amendment to require the federal government to balance its budget.
Like McKenzie, Hagedorn says that he’ll also be introducing proposals for a convention in the 2014 legislative session. “I’ve got the bills drafted and ready to go,” he told IdahoReporter.com.