Politics & Government

Is Texas ready to join a movement to rewrite history?

The U.S. Constitution
The U.S. Constitution

Some people fed up with with politics in Washington, D.C. believe there’s no way the new president next year — no matter who is elected — will be able to fix all the problems they believe ail this country.

As voting for the Nov. 8 election approaches, the effort pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and others to convene a convention of states and reduce the power of the federal government appears to be gaining even more steam, particularly in Texas, a state long known for its willingness to push back against federal overreach.

“There is a fight going on,” said Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance and Co-Founder of the Convention of States Project. “There are two sides. It’s about the people versus the ruling elite in Washington, D.C.

“None of my friends believe that Washington, D.C., is representing the people anymore.”

Supporters say this effort to call a convention of states is a way to help get the country back on track. Opponents say it’s dangerous to open up the Constitution to potentially unlimited changes.

But now that a test run of such a convention was conducted in Colonial Williamsburg, Va., with few problems, advocates say it’s time for Texas and other states to step up and agree to participate in a real convention, something Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has advocated for the past year.

“What happened in Williamsburg is something people said would never happen,” said Meckler, who was among those promoting such a convention in Fort Worth recently. “People from all states gathered, proposed six amendments and ran a simulated convention. It has never been done before in American history. The point was proof of concept.

“Now the job is to get it done.”

Critics caution against moving too fast.

“A convention would be impossible to control,” USA Today’s editorial board wrote earlier this year. “Nothing in the Constitution gives Congress or the Supreme Court the power to tell the conventioneers what to do, or not do.

“A convention might be tasked to draft a balanced budget amendment and then decide that it wants to radically change the nature of the federal government or its relationship with the states. It might take up a passion of the moment by, say, limiting immigration by nationality or religious affiliation. It would have nearly unfettered powers to tinker with the DNA of America's 240-year-old democracy.”

Texas efforts

Under the law, 34 states must call for a constitutional convention before it may occur. Any proposals made must be approved by at least 38 states before changes could be made.

“Intellectually, it is a very interesting concept, but from a practical perspective it would be a herculean task to gain the support of the necessary 34 state legislatures,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

The last constitutional convention was held in 1787 and led to a new Constitution.

The last constitutional convention was held in 1787 and led to a new Constitution.

Abbott has long been an ardent supporter, talking about how states must use the powers granted to them to amend the constitution, even writing a book on the issue. Earlier this year, he was among those encouraging the Republican Party of Texas to include a call for an Article V convention in the party platform.

The platform was amended to add: “We support the Bill of Rights as written by our Founding Fathers and assert the authority of the 10th amendment. We urge our Texas State Legislators to call for a limited Article V Convention of States for the specific purpose of reducing the power of the federal government, including implementation of term limits. Any proposed amendments must be ratified by  3/4 of the states.”

Abbott has long said this is a necessary step.

“When measured by how far we have strayed from the Constitution we originally agreed to, the government’s flagrant and repeated violations of the rule of law amount to a wholesale abdication of the Constitution’s design,” Abbott wrote in a lengthy proposal earlier this year.

The Texas House last year approved a plan to let Texas participate in a convention of states, but the measure never made it out of a Senate committee.

It is expected to come up again in the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 10.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, is among those who attended the simulated convention in Virgina and he is expected to be among those filing a plan next year for Texas to participate in a real convention of the states.

“I think there’s more momentum for this now than in the past,” said state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, who attended a recent town hall about this topic in Fort Worth. “I think the public is very frustrated with the federal government and that they aren’t staying inside the constitutional box.

“This is one of the tools our founders gave us to rein that back in,” she said. “This isn’t necessarily a partisan issue — Democrats, liberals, moderates and Republicans all believe we need to reign in Washington.”

So far, eight states have passed resolutions calling for a convention of the states, Meckler said.

Officials with the Convention of States Project are traveling around the country, holding meetings and town halls to encourage voters across the country to support this idea.

They offer an online petition for supporters of an Article V convention to sign on their website.

Such a convention would have three focuses, Meckler said:

▪ Imposing financial restraints on the federal government;

▪ Limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government; and

▪ Imposing term limits on officials and members of Congress.

“This movement is in part a direct response to a growing concern among many conservatives that over the past few decades the pendulum in the balance of power between the states and the federal government has swung too far in favor of the latter,” Jones said.

“This general concern has been magnified and deepened following the passing of Justice Scalia, and the realization among many conservatives that they are likely to encounter an increasingly liberal court, with many state laws that are in conflict with the vision of this future liberal majority likely to be overturned during the remainder of the decade, especially among those who believe that Hillary Clinton will be victorious on November 8.”

Many Texans are on board, Meckler said.

There are 97,000 activists in Texas, not to mention two top state leaders — Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — encouraging the effort.

There are 97,000 activists in Texas, not to mention two top state leaders — Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — encouraging the effort.

“Texas is absolutely on board, if not as much than more than other states,” Meckler said. “Texas always leads the way in pushing back against federal overreach.”

Continuing concerns

Some fear a constitutional convention in this politically charged atmosphere would be a big mistake.

“We believe there is too much legal ambiguity that leads to too great a risk that it could be hijacked by wealthy special interests pushing a radical agenda that poses a very real threat to American democracy,” according to a statement by Common Cause, a nonpartisan grassroots group “dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy.”

If such a convention is convened, “there are no settled rules or procedures to govern an Article V convention and it cannot be limited in scope,” Common Cause stated.

Klick said her biggest worry is that a convention won’t occur.

“I’m far more concerned with the damage that can be done when you’ve got a federal government that’s out of control.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Get involved?

To sign a petition calling for a Convention of States, go online to the Convention of States website at www.conventionofstates.com and enter your name, address and email to join the call.

For more information, call 540-441-7227.

Source: Convention of States