Paul Hampton

A constitutional convention? Here’s another one the Legislature got right

Like I said, the past Legislature might as well be best remembered for what it didn’t do.

But one thing it didn’t do slipped my mind. It didn’t pass any of the seven chances it had to join the call for a Convention of States. They all died inglorious deaths in various committees.

Who wants a convention? The Koch Brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council and other assorted billionaire-backed groups.

Why do the want it? The stated reason is to pass a balanced-budget amendment.

Sounds OK, doesn’t it? But it makes me wonder why a two-thirds majority of our Legislature, many of whom have made careers out of ranting about Washington, the debt and government overreach, would not be on board.

Maybe it’s because the state has a balanced-budget amendment that hasn’t stopped it from running up a sizable debt. Or maybe some enterprising scoundrel accidentally inserted the lot of them into the shredder.

But there is another reason I worry about this convention becoming a reality. There is no guarantee a steady stream of harebrained ideas won’t come out of it.

Tinkering with the U.S. Constitution in today’s political climate — now there’s a nuclear option.

Is the debt a problem? It sure is. In my 2015 tax return, almost $700 of my taxes went to interest on the debt. That’s was a bigger chunk of my taxes than was spent for any government program except the military and health care.

But do I want to risk losing a woman’s right to choose, a gay or lesbian couple’s right to marry or a free press? Nope.

There is no set way for states to pick the representatives to the convention, but the political elite the Convention of States folks despise will have the upper hand.

Supporters say don’t worry — a runaway convention won’t happen. They pointed me to Page 17 of Robert G. Natelson’s Handbook for State Lawmakers. I read it.

“Prior rules and practice governing interstate conventions show that conventions must honor the terms of their call and limit themselves to the scope and subject matter they are charged with addressing,” he writes. Those interstate conventions he’s writing about — they all took place before the Constitution was born.

And there are those more skeptical than me.

“There is no way to effectively limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention,” Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote in 1988. “The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the Convention to one amendment or one issue, but there is no way to assure that the Convention would obey. After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don’t like its agenda.”

There have been more than 400 applications for conventions but there has never been one since the Constitution was adopted, according to the supporters’ website, conventionofstates.com.

In the era of fake news, Russian intrigue and a Congress that’s making up the rules as it goes along, an era that probably will be remembered as the most hotly divided since the Civil War is no time to mucking with the Constitution. And the GOP controls most of the Legislature, which likely would pick convention delegates. Governors are another option for picking delegates. There are 34 Republican governors. Republicans, the team that was going to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The good news is the good guys are winning. It’s unclear how many states have signed on. If 34 do, there will be a convention.

So, if more than zero have, it’s too many.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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