The Speaker’s Committee Room just outside the House chamber is an unlikely gathering place for plotters and revolutionaries, men who would change the trajectory of the Republic, but there they were.
Led by state Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin), six legislators gathered yesterday to announce their push to amend the U.S. Constitution to add conservative reform measures like a balanced budget requirement, hopping on the bandwagon of a national movement that hopes to work through state legislatures and force the issue nationally.
“I’d like to begin today with the words of Thomas Jefferson,” said Workman, “one of our Founding Fathers, who said in 1798 that, quote, ‘I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I mean an article taking from the federal government the power of borrowing.’ Jefferson knew that borrowing money would only lead to the demise of the nation.”
(Unlike most of the Founding Fathers quotes you hear these days, this one is mostly accurate—though Jefferson got over his earlier aversion to borrowing during his presidency in time to make the Louisiana Purchase, for which Texans should be glad, and came to accept the utility of government debt later in his life.)
“Here we are, 217 years later, and our nation has an insatiable appetite for government largesse,” said Workman. Something had to be done. So he and his buddies, among whom stood GOP state Reps. James White of Tyler, Dan Flynn of Canton, Phil King of Weatherford and Rick Miller of Sugar Land, were calling for a constitutional convention by way of Article V, a constitutional provision that allows three-fourths of the states to force Congress to order one.
“We are now a hundred years into congressional bad behavior, which has systematically and purposefully stripped the states of their sovereignty, and it’s going on as we speak,” said Workman. He and his allies want amendments that would require a balanced federal budget, impose restrictions on spending and impose term limits on Congress.
Workman’s House Joint Resolutions 78 and 79 propose spending limits. Miller has House Joint Resolution 77, which seeks spending and term limits, and wants to “limit the jurisdiction” of the federal government. King’s House Bill 1110 would lay out the procedure for selecting delegates to the convention. White’s House Bill 1109 takes a different approach: He’d have Texas enter into an interstate compact calling for a balanced budget amendment.
King, the chair of the Select Committee on State & Federal Power & Responsibility, said the proposals would be heard in his fiefdom two weeks hence. A representative from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would come to educate legislators on constitutional procedures.
Pity our state’s Republican legislators: Congressmen find it much easier to grandstand, close as they are to the devil himself, B.H.O. But there aren’t many Democrats worth throwing punches at around Austin, so some reps try to work over the president too. But it’s harder to do from 1,300 miles away.
It’s not entirely a gimmick—there have been plenty of Article V attempts in American history. Texas has used the approach 12 times—among them, to attempt to ban school bussing in 1973. And it’s not coming out of nowhere—an Austin-based organization, Citizens for Self-Governance, is encouraging state legislators to push for constitutional changes through their Convention of States project, which recently brought former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn on board as a senior adviser.
Seven states have passed an Article V appeal for a balanced budget amendment since 2012, and the group says it has support from legislators in 33 states. They need support from 34 to force Congress to call a constitutional convention. Last summer, the group had a summit in Indiana to discuss the group’s 2015 agenda—Workman was there.
Convention of States isn’t the only group going the Article V route—there’s also Wolf PAC, on the left, making a bid to end corporate personhood. There’s a sense in the air that the mechanisms of American governance aren’t working, and some, like Workman and friends, are looking to structural solutions. They have a long road ahead of them.