Two former titans of the Senate’s limited-government conservative right, Jim DeMint and Tom “Dr. No” Coburn, have lent their voices and experience to Convention of States, an initiative to bring about a state-led convention to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Convention of States, a project of Tea-Party-born non-profit Citizens for Self-Governance, is seeking to convince two-thirds of state legislatures to sign on under Article V of the Constitution and send delegates to a convention to amend that revered document.
The group plans to limit the amendment to a single topic like federal spending or checked growth of the government. The 34 required states would, therefore, have to agree on a specific topic. If the convention agreed to any new amendments, they would then have to have them approved by three-quarters of the states just like an amendment proposed by Congress.
Former South Carolina Republican Senator DeMint, of late head of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, has become convinced a real change in direction for our government can’t originate on Capitol Hill, and he sat down with Breitbart News to discuss how, along with Senate Colleague Tom Coburn, he came to this conclusion.
“I came to Washington after the ’98 elections really believing we could still change things,” he began. “We still kept spending, expanding the government. Under Republican control we expanded the role in education and in healthcare.”
He bemoaned that, “There were no structural restrictions or restraints … the only thing that could get through was adding.”
DeMint realized during his tenure not all the blame could be laid on the other side of the aisle. “I tell people all the time, you get $23 trillion in debt without a lot of bipartisanship. It’s only when you’re adding programs, adding spending, and even regulations you get bipartisan support,” he explained.
“I realized we had to go outside Washington to change things,” DeMint said, but even than, he took some convincing that a new Constitutional Convention was the way forward:
Probably ten years ago, the idea of Constitutional Convention was something I thought was a bad idea. But it became apparent, particularly now, after the wave election in 2016 … no one is even seriously considering balancing the budget, or restricting taxes, although that’s being talked about now. We campaigned on repealing Obamacare, but it didn’t even come close in the House. The American people have lost confidence in their form of government, approval of Congress is about as low as it’s ever been, and state legislatures are actually making progress … I’ve found that the only way to save the country from bankruptcy is for the states to use what the founders gave them.
DeMint downplayed the fears he once had of a runaway “open convention” jeopardizing the constitutional protections we already enjoy. “Article V is not about an open convention. It’s about the proposing of amendments, which has to be done in a very orderly way and then ratified by 38 states,” he explained, “The chances of us losing our rights and privileges through the courts or Congress is much greater than in a state initiated convention.”
Citizens for Self-Government President and Tea Party Patriots founder Mark Meckler, sitting next to DeMint, explained that the ability for states to propose amendments was added with no opposition at the very end of the original 1787 Constitutional Convention. The addition made sure that a potentially tyrannical central government would not have the sole responsibility to amend itself, preserving the central logic of federalism. “I’d imagine if we had the video, they all slapped themselves on the forehead and say, ‘Seriously? I can’t believe we didn’t think of that,'” Mekhler said with a chuckle.
Meckler later explained his confidence in state legislatures to pursue change Washington will not, pointing out for example the inability of state governments to print money to solve their budget crises. A record number of statehouses are now in Republican hands, a fact informing the push for the convention. “The people are always more conservative than their government … that’s true in the red states and the purples states,” Meckler said. “The trend is towards more conservative government in the states.”
Just when Breitbart News asked DeMint and Meckler about Coburn’s influence on the plan for a new convention, “Dr. No” himself entered the room. Coburn, a medical doctor, earned the James Bond-inspired nickname through years as one of the Senate’s staunchest voices against new spending and programs.
“We didn’t have to convince each other that this place was never going to stop spending,” Coburn said of himself and DeMint.
“You can’t fix it here,” Coburn said of Washington, adding:
Think about the conflicts of interest here that are damaging to the next generation. If you don’t address those, the consequences are going to be disastrous … That’s why I left two years early. I told the leader two year before I left, “If we don’t stop changing what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, I’m not going to stick around.”
Coburn went on to explain the virtue of trusting in state governments more closely connected to their constituents than the federal legislature who, by their nature, are far disconnected from most of their voters:
You have no influence up here [in Washington] … A U.S. senator? The people South Carolina, maybe 50,000 of them a year can see or touch him, but how many of them really got down to talking to him, telling him what they thought? Yeah, can’t. That’s the whole purpose of, originally, having the senators chosen by the state legislators because you could have more power of the state influencing what that senator did. We lost that with the 17th Amendment.
The Convention of States is setting an aggressive timeline to get an amendments convention underway. Twelve states — Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arizona, North Dakota, Missouri, and Texas — have already passed Article V resolutions in line with the organization’s plan. In the aftermath of their mock convention in Williamsburg, Virginia last year, Meckler hopes 10-15 more will join in 2017 and 2018, setting up a final push over the top in 2019.
Coburn was also optimistic, but he tempered his expectation based on his prediction on the opposition to a convention:
It’s a higher hill to climb because the negatives against this are based on hyperbole and fear, not on fact. When you’re fighting hyperbole and fear, that’s a tough win. And the fact that you have to achieve two-thirds, that’s a hard road. But we’ll get there. Whether it’s two years or three years, it will become very clear to everybody that there will be no solution coming from Washington.
DeMint was also confident of the amendment convention’s eventual inevitability. “Frankly, I think if the founders saw where we are today they would be dumbfounded that the states hadn’t done this a long, long time ago,” he told Breitbart News.