FOR AMENDMENTS: Sen. Gary Stubblefield, sponsor of measure calling for convention to amend U.S. Constitution.

Here I go again, agreeing with a fringe political group known for its wackiness — Secure Arkansas. They’re right on this one, a proposal for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. UPDATE: The proposal was approved in the state Senate today after an hour of debate.

The group has put out an alert on a possible vote in the Senate today on SJR 3, which would add Arkansas to the roster of states that would call a convention to consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Secure Arkansas’s alert gives many reasons for their suspicion about the idea. I stop short of endorsing all of their thinking. But the central point is correct: Such a convention would be a playpen for devilment by the likes of special interests such the Koch brothers and their enablers like ALEC.  Besides, who can trust corrupt Arkansas legislators to do right by the people vs. special interests?

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Common Cause, the nonpartisan good government group, has a useful explanation of this mostly Republican plot, nearing the number of states needed to call the convention. It’s a threat to democracy, Common Cause says.

Even more useful in the Secure Arkansas alert linked above is an epic catalog of special interest spending on legislators in Arkansas, both by direct contributions and dubious PAC schemes badly in need of corrective legislation. On that, again, Secure Arkansas and I can agree.

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Some Republican legislatures have opposed the convention of states idea, by the way.

Common Cause outlines problems:

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THREAT OF A RUNAWAY CONVENTION: There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent a constitutional convention from being expanded in scope to issues not raised in convention calls passed by the state legislatures, and therefore could lead to a runaway convention.

INFLUENCE OF SPECIAL INTERESTS: An Article V convention would open the Constitution to revisions at a time of extreme gerrymandering and polarization amid unlimited political spending. It could allow special interests and the wealthiest to re-write the rules governing our system of government.

LACK OF CONVENTION RULES: There are no rules governing constitutional conventions. A convention would be an unpredictable Pandora’s Box; the last one, in 1787, resulted in a brand-new Constitution. One group advocating for a “Convention of States” openly discusses the possibility of using the process to undo hard-won civil rights and civil liberties advances and undermine basic rights extended throughout history as our nation strove to deliver on the promise of a democracy that works for everyone.

THREAT OF LEGAL DISPUTES: No judicial, legislative, or executive body would have clear authority to settle disputes about a convention, opening the process to chaos and protracted legal battles that would threaten the functioning of our democracy and economy.

APPLICATION PROCESS UNCERTAINTY: There is no clear process on how Congress or any other governmental body would count and add up Article V applications, or if Congress and the states could restrain the convention’s mandate based on those applications.

POSSIBILITY OF UNEQUAL REPRESENTATION: It is unclear how states would choose delegates to a convention, how states and citizens would be represented in a convention, and who would ultimately get to vote on items raised in a convention.

UNCERTAIN RATIFICATION PROCESS: A convention could try to re-define the ratification process (which currently requires 38 states to approve any new amendments) to make it easier to pass new amendments, including those considered at the convention. This happened in 1787, when the convention changed the threshold necessary for ratification.
Simply put, an Article V constitutional convention is a dangerous and uncontrollable process that would put Americans’ constitutional rights up for grabs.

At a time when extreme gerrymandering has created unprecedented polarization and big money buys access and influence for a few very wealthy special interests, a new constitutional convention would lead to chaos; the interests of everyday Americans would be shut out of the ultimate closed-door meeting. There would be no way to limit the scope of a constitutional convention and no way to guarantee that our civil liberties and constitutional process would be protected.

UPDATE: In presenting the resolution to the state Senate today, Sen. Gary Stubblefield talked mostly about government debt because a key aim of the movement is a balanced budget amendment. He said the debt is $22 trillion and mounting and Congress doesn’t have the will to address it. “We cannot continue to owe this kind of money,” he said.

He railed in a stem-winder of a speech against Congress for exempting itself from laws that cover others. He invoked Martin Luther King, calling for the oppressed to stand up for freedom. It’s the same principle driving the so-called Article 5 convention movement, a reference that allows a convention on petition of two-thirds of the state. Amendments proposed there would require approval from three-fourths of the states.

One sticking point is the subject of the convention. Must it be limited to specific topics supported by the individual states. Most aim at the budget question. The Arkansas proposal sets these limits on such a convention to measures that:

impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of the United States Congress. 

Term limits on Congress? How about shortening them on Arkansas legislators?

Sen. Will Bond
 (D-Little Rock) raised the question about a runaway convention. Stubblefield insisted nothing would be allowed outside the limits in the Arkansas proposal, if those are the terms set by a sufficient number of states. He also noted that only 13 states could block any amendment proposed by the convention. “It’s a very high bar,” he said.

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Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) opposed the resolution. She said she was troubled by the idea of limiting government given the rights she’s seen government preserve. “It doesn’t take a constitutional convention,” to deal with a deficit, she said. She said she was concerned about those talking about religion in promoting amendments and what that might do to the existing guarantee against government establishment of religion. White, male and moneyed interests put together the first Constitution, she said. What will be done, she asked, to be sure a new constitutional convention “reflects the diversity that is America.”

Sen. Mark Johnson (R-Little Rock) and Sen. Alan Clark (R-Hot Springs) also endorsed the resolution. Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) opposed it.

Stubblefield closed by invoking socialism and George Soros. The resolution passed 19-13. Four Republicans — Pitsch, English, Sample and Sturch — joined Democratic opposition. Two Republicans — Dismang and Eads — didn’t vote, same effect as a no. Irvin, another Republican, was also a non-vote in the “excused” category.