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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Take back the power

Syndicated columnist Cal Thoms on state Sen. David Long's idea of state-driven efforts to tame a reluctant federal government:

Long is promoting an unused section of the U.S. Constitution as the ultimate check on big government. Article V provides two paths to amending the Constitution. One is through two-thirds of both houses of Congress, followed by ratification by three-fourths of the states. The other begins at the state level, where two-thirds of the legislatures ask Congress to call “a convention for proposing amendments.” States would send delegates to this convention to propose amendments to the Constitution. Then, three-fourths of the states would ratify any amendments approved by the convention, either by their legislatures or special ratifying conventions.

Long notes that the Founders wanted the states to be able to amend the Constitution as a means of checking a runaway federal government. They understood human nature and its lust for power.

In a telephone conversation, Sen. Long claims the biggest objection to an Article V convention is that those who participate might take the opportunity to engage in mischief and wreck the Constitution. But, he says, the ability of delegates to go beyond the limits set by their respective legislatures would be clearly restricted and delegates who attempt to exceed their authority would be removed.

I wrote an editorial on this subject for last Friday's paper. In it, I list another reason not to fear a "runaway convention":


Nothing recommended by a convention could happen without ratification by three-fourths of the states. That’s a powerful check against recklessness. And just imagine the debates and discussions about governance that would go on all over the country.

Long's point about legislatures setting strict, specific limits is important, though. One of the historical myths we cling to is that the constitutional convention in Philadelphia got out of hand -- delegates scrapped the whole Articles of Confederation when they were just supposed to tweak it a little. The delegates, with one or two exceptions, were doing exactly what the people who sent them had instructed them to do. There was a lot of dissent over how much power to give the federal government and a lot of fear of a too-strong central government, but everybody knew there were problems that couldn't be fixed with continued squabbling among the states.