By John Celock
Following a debate centered on the meaning of the Constitution, Oklahoma senators advanced legislation calling for a new constitutional convention.
The Senate voted 30-16 Tuesday to pass a bill calling on Congress to organize a constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution focused on balanced budget and term limit issues. The legislation is part of a national movement to call the convention – organized by the Convention of States Project – which has seen 16 other states submit resolutions to Congress.
“The purpose of this convention is for states to show this is the United States of America not the United State of America,” Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman) said during the debate.
Standridge explained that the Oklahoma petition is similar to ones being considered in other states that would limit an Article V convention to consideration of a balanced budget amendment and congressional term limits in the U.S. Constitution. Standridge said the limits on the petition are to keep such a plan focused on issues that would likely garner ratification from 38 states after the convention. Under the wording of Article V, 34 states would need to petition for such a convention to be called, something that has not happened in American history.
During the debate, Oklahoma lawmakers focused on whether such a convention was needed and what the framers of the Constitution were looking for when they included the ability for states to call a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution. All constitutional amendments to date have been proposed by Congress before ratification by the states.
Standridge and supporters said that the state driven convention was placed into the Constitution in 1787 in order to allow for the states to drive the conversation, a theme brought up in other states during debates.
“It is a limited purpose committee intended to give states the ability to propose amendments that Congress never would,” Sen. Mike Mazzei (R-Norman) said during the debate.
Mazzei said that an Article V convention is needed in order to address federal spending, saying that the country is headed towards a financial calamity with deficit spending and more and more borrowing by the federal government. He said that he wants to see such a convention focus on the budget issues, painting a dire picture of inaction.
“What that situation will result in unless we take action is the 70s and making that interest rate scenario look rather tame,” Mazzei said. “As our country battles down like a high speed train headed for a wreck, we have the opportunity to do something, to get them talking about a balanced budget amendment.”
Opponents raised questions over what the convention would tackle and how a delegation would be selected. Standridge said that state legislatures would lay out how to select delegates in the future and can bind delegates to discussing certain items. Other lawmakers questioned whether the convention would become a “runaway convention” making more proposals other than a balanced budget amendment and term limits, a frequent objection brought up by opponents on both sides of the aisle.
Opposing senators questioned whether the convention would be able to override the ratification clause of the Constitution and unilaterally impose new amendments or give control over ratification to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I do not want to open this can of worms,” Sen. David Holt (R-Oklahoma City) said.
Holt instead laid out other ideas for imposing a balanced budget and limiting interest rates, including returning the country to the gold standard. Holt also noted that the country does not need a new convention but rather a “national revival.”
Standridge and others said that amendments would still have to be approved by the states and the convention could not overrule the Constitution. They noted that this is a safeguard against a “runaway convention.” Mazzei told his colleagues to look around the room when considering the ratification process.
“There is no way 38 states, 38 bodies like you, would ratify something stupid,” Mazzei said.
A movement has been growing for an Article V convention in recent years, with several groups pushing for such a project, with support gaining on both sides of the aisle. While states have been submitting petitions for such a convention for years, Congress has said that the petitions have to be identical in form in order to count as part of the aggregate for calling for a convention.
Standridge said that he believes the time has come for such a petition to be able to be considered by Congress.
“When you are back in your districts and we are talking to the people of Oklahoma, we hear that we need a change. And what is that change about, it is about the federal government,” he said. “We are like puppets on a string. We have to stand up as states. That is what this movement is about. It is about people of faith standing up around the nation. It is men and women of faith looking at this problem and looking for a way to tackle it.”