Idaho may soon move a step closer to participating in a national effort to amend the U.S. Constitution.
“Exactly one year ago today (Tuesday) when I was working on this, the national debt was $16.4 trillion,” said Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Boise. “Today, a year later it’s $17.3 trillion. The feds have been busy, and not in a good way.”
McKenzie is trying again during this year’s legislative session to formalize Idaho’s involvement in a national effort to adopt a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. His goal is to engage the Gem State in what is sometimes referred to as a constitutional convention, but is more technically and officially known as a “convention for proposing amendments.”
During the last three legislative sessions, he has proposed bills regarding both the subject matter for a convention and, procedurally, how Idaho would select delegates for a convention.
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.”
Some state legislators in Idaho and elsewhere attribute “The Liberty Amendments,” a best-selling book from author, attorney, constitutional scholar and talk show host Mark Levin as providing inspiration for a convention.
McKenzie, also an attorney, said he keeps a copy of Levin’s book on his desk in his Senate office.
Despite the enthusiasm many have for McKenzie’s efforts, others remain skeptical.
“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 legislative effort last year was entitled the No Runaway Convention Act (which can be viewed HERE).
Despite this, Boyle remains unconvinced. “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.
“There is just no way to control the outcome of a convention,” Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, told IdahoReporter.com. “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.”
John Runft, a private practice attorney in Boise and an outspoken advocate for a convention, is pleased with McKenzie’s efforts. “Our Legislature had the bills for this ready to go three years ago, but the far right defeated it. 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.”
McKenzie is in the process of presenting his legislation to the Senate State Affairs Committee. The committee has already agreed to print what is known as a “memorial,” an official request from the state of Idaho to be sent to the U.S. Congress asking the Congress to actually keep track of all state requests for a convention. A memorial must be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, just like a piece of legislation.