Supporters lobby lawmakers for Convention of States resolution

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RALEIGH — Grassroots supporters pressed North Carolina legislators Wednesday to call for a states’ convention that could propose constitutional amendments to limit federal power and shrink Congress’ influence.

Convention of States Action, a national advocacy group, held a rally outside the N.C. Legislative Building with Allen West, a political commentator and former Florida congressman, and Tom Coburn, a former U.S. senator from Oklahoma, firing up the crowd of roughly 80 attendees.

“We have got to get the right balance between the federal government and the states and the individual,” West said. “America as a constitutional republic is built on the rule of law and individual sovereignty, individual freedom, individual liberty — not the power of government. It’s your time.”

Last month, Mississippi became the 15th state to issue a convention call. The U.S. Constitution’s Article V requires two-thirds of the states (34) to propose amendments by convention. Three-quarters (38) are required to ratify amendments.

Limited government advocates have zeroed in on a states’ convention as their best chance to impose term limits and a balanced budget amendment on a Congress unlikely to advance amendments that could hold its members in check.

House Joint Resolution 390, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance, would add North Carolina to the 15 states that have made formal convention calls. A competing resolution, HJR 160, seeks to formalize opposition to a states’ convention.

West said concerns that a “runaway convention” could write an entirely new Constitution or wipe out centuries of constitutional law are unfounded, and opponents of the effort don’t have a clear understanding of it.

“We’ve been able to present them with the facts and the truth that this dissent against the convention of states is just not valid,” West said. “It’s like a kid — you put green beans in front of them, and they say, ‘It looks yucky. I don’t like it.’”

Scholars disagree whether delegates to a states’ convention would be limited in voting on the issues authorized in state resolutions, but any amendment that emerges from such a meeting would still require ratification from 38 state legislatures.

“That’s a high-water mark,” West said. “You’re talking about 38 states. The Founding Fathers made this very difficult because they did not want to allow a few to make significant changes to the United States of America.”

Coburn said Congress and the courts have eviscerated the 10th Amendment, which reserves powers not enumerated as federal responsibilities for the states.

“The goal is to win the next election, not to win the future for our country,” Coburn said. “We have misguided leadership in many areas, in both parties. The way we cure that is by restoring the rules, the wonderful rules our founders gave us, that say, ‘Here’s your job, federal government. Everything else is left to the states and the people.’”

The convention of states movement is nonpartisan, but it’s popular with conservatives and libertarians. Progressives often regard it with suspicion, and advocates say its aims are often distorted or misunderstood.

“We don’t teach civics,” West said. “Our young people don’t understand our government structure, but you know, the sad thing is that a lot of adults don’t either.”

Speakers derided “fake news” but applauded The Wilson Times for what they called fair and accurate coverage of the convention effort. Times Chairman and CEO Morgan Dickerman and Corey Friedman, the newspaper’s editor, received Convention of States Action’s 2018 Benjamin Franklin Award for Journalistic Excellence at the rally’s conclusion.

Awards are given to print and broadcast news outlets for coverage, not advocacy. The citation on plaques presented to Dickerman and Friedman reads: “For accurately reporting on the Convention of States Project.”

After the midmorning rally, supporters met with district captains and fanned out to speak with lawmakers. Convention of States Action leaders learned that the House Republican Caucus is expected to discuss Riddell’s resolution, West said.

A retired Army lieutenant colonel who was stationed at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune during his military service, West said he’s 80 to 85 percent confident North Carolina will issue a convention call. That may hinge, he added, on whether residents are willing to champion the effort in conversations with their state lawmakers.

“They need to hear from you,” West told supporters. “If they don’t hear from you, they will continue down a certain path because the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”