Discussing the possibility of amending the U.S. Constitution drew approximately 100 legislators from 32 states, according to an Idaho lawmaker who attended the event. He described it as “a great start.” The lawmakers gathered in Virginia at the Mount Vernon estate of President George Washington.
But, he added, a long process still lies ahead before amendments can even be drafted.
“It went very well, it’s a great start,” said Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. “The most exciting thing for me is that we have a good plan of action. This is not going to happen quickly, and we’re moving forward with full transparency.” Hagedorn was the only member of Idaho’s Legislature to attend the gathering.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides two paths by which the Constitution can be amended. One is through two-thirds of both chambers of the U.S. Congress authorizing an amendment, followed by ratification by three-fourths of the states. The other begins at the state level, where two-thirds of all the legislatures ask Congress to call “a convention for proposing amendments.”
In the latter scenario, states would send delegates to this convention to propose amendments. Then, 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.
As a precursor to a “convention for proposing amendments,” Wisconsin state Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, organized the event the weekend of Dec. 7 at Mount Vernon. “I’m very happy with how it turned out,” Kapenga told IdahoReporter.com. “We were pleasantly surprised not only with the turnout, but with the discussion that took place. It was all very positive.”
Kapenga concurs with Hagedorn, in that he notes that a long, slow process lies ahead. “As a next step, we'll be releasing a resolution very soon,” he explained. “We'll do another meeting at the Indiana state Legislature in either the spring or early summer of 2014, and there we will plan a drafting conference.”
Kapenga stressed that the Mount Vernon meeting was intended only to confirm interest in amending the U.S. Constitution and to begin putting together a plan of action. “We were dealing with process, not subject matter,” he noted, adding that “there are absolutely no outside organizations involved in this, and if this happens it will be the will of the people as expressed by their state legislators.”
Hagedorn and Kapenga confirm that the gathering included both Democrats and Republicans, but that most of the legislators in attendance were Republicans. “One of the Democrats in attendance spoke up at the event and said that they wanted total transparency with this process, and I appreciated that,” Hagedorn said.
Prior to the Mount Vernon gathering, Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, told IdahoReporter.com that he supports an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require the federal government to balance its budget (except in times of war and other emergencies).”
Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, also favors a balanced budget amendment for the federal government, noting that “I definitely think there’s been a shift in the mindset among the people regarding states’ rights. People are more concerned about the expansive nature of our federal government and the need for the states to put some controls on it.”
While many legislators around the nation attribute “The Liberty Amendments,” a book from author and constitutional scholar Mark Levin, as providing inspiration for a convention, some legislators remain skeptical and even fearful of the idea.
“I have never been in favor of this,” Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, told IdahoReporter.com. “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. 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. 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. “There is just no way to control the outcome of a convention,” agreed Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth. “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.”
Despite opposition here at home, Hagedorn remains confident that a convention to propose amendments would be a productive thing. “For an amendment to the Constitution to happen, three-quarters of the states have to ratify that particular amendment,” he explained. “Each state has one equal vote. Each amendment would have to be ratified by 38 states. Thirty-eight states are not going to agree on something like, for example, radically changing the Second Amendment.”
Kapenga concurs with Hagedorn. “For anybody who looks at this process and has concerns, I’d tell them that the process, itself, is constitutional. I’d also ask ‘do you have a better solution?’ This is a constitutionally authorized action, there is no question about this.”
Both McKenzie and Hagedorn report that they are working on legislation to enable Idaho to move forward in the process during the 2014 legislative session.