America is facing a constitutional crisis.
Limits on the size and power of the national government intended by the Founding Fathers and placed in the Constitution have been violated repeatedly and with devastating consequences. The national government has grown to the point that it is now a clear and present danger to American life, liberty, and happiness.
The national debt currently stands at nearly $19 trillion and will surpass $20 trillion in 2017. National entitlement programs are all on paths to bankruptcy, some as soon as this year. Many states and cities face their own impending financial cliffs. Government debt is a “ticking time bomb” that threatens to destroy people’s savings, the economy, and America’s leadership in the world. The regulatory state is similarly out of control.
The U.S. Supreme Court and Congress are unable or unwilling to protect the Constitution from these assaults.
The strategy of confronting Leviathan issue-by-issue or program-by-program has produced many successes, but it has failed spectacularly to rein in total national government spending, borrowing, and regulating. While we rightly celebrate victories at the state level or blocking one or two national programs and repealing one or two regulations, countless other programs expand and regulations get enacted. We win some battles but we are clearly losing the war.
The root of the problem lies in the Constitution itself, a magnificent document without any doubt, “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man,” as William Gladstone wrote in 1878. But it is a document not immune to the contrivances of generations of men and women set on finding ways to evade its restrictions on their power, prestige, and access to the wealth of others. As Thomas Jefferson warned, “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”
The system created by the Founders to rein in the national government is now broken. The national government has unlimited power to tax, regulate, and borrow. The courts have failed to interpret and enforce key provisions of the Constitution that limit the powers of Congress and the executive branch. State governments have become addicted to “revenue sharing,” losing their independence and hence their ability to check the growth of the national government.
Repealing past amendments and convincing future Supreme Court justices to defend the written Constitution may not be possible, but other constitutional reforms can help repair the damage they have done. Until the damage is fixed, conservatives and libertarians will continue to win battles and lose the bigger war for freedom.
The Arizona BBA Planning Convention
The undisputable highlight of the year was the convening of the Arizona BBA Planning Convention of States in Phoenix from September 12-15, 2017. This was the first official national convention of states since 1861. In all, 19 states formally appointed and sent commissioners. Another 5 states sent observers. Despite the concerted efforts of the Arizona legislative leadership to get the left leaning states to attend, the liberal states essentially boycotted leaving the pool of states available to attend at 32. That 24 states sent at least one attendee speaks strongly to its surface success.
When one looks at the actual accomplishments of the convention, the lessons learned about intra-state communications, and the momentum established from this equivalent of a "dress rehearsal," then its benefit to the overall movement become quite notable. I was honored to represent Georgia in Phoenix and to serve as Convention Secretary. Attached is the Georgia delegation's report to the Georgia legislature on the Arizona convention. It provides much more detail on the actual work and accomplishments of the convention.
Congratulations and thanks to AZ Rep. Kelly Townsend (the Convention President), House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and the entire Arizona legislature, and to BBA Task Force co-founder Bill Fruth for their hard work in planning hosting this historic gathering. It would be remiss to acknowledge Phoenix without also acknowledging the work of the Assembly of State Legislatures, who for the past four years have met and developed rules that logically led to the calling of the Arizona Convention. It should further be noted that the Williamsburg mock convention of states hosted by the Convention of States Project in 2016 provided a solid foundation upon which the Arizona convention could build. Thank you COSP!
The Rescission Movement
With the issuance of its April 2016 report, "The Dangerous Path,"2 Common Cause declared war on the Article V Movement. It successfully lobbied Delaware to rescind its Article V applications in 2016. With the legislative changes in several states following the Presidential election, the Rescission Movement successfully lobbied New Mexico, Maryland and Nevada to rescind their Article V resolutions in 2017.
To be clear, "The Rescission Movement" is my term. It includes not only Common Cause and its 200-plus "affiliated" liberal groups, but the John Birch Society and Eagle Forum on the right. Despite the overwhelming evidence that no Article V convention could ever propose a rogue amendment that 38 states would ratify, these strange bedfellows continue to offer ever increasing shrill arguments about the end of the world if a convention is called. And Democratic legislators (plus the mystifying NV GOP caucus) apparently listen. Reminds me of the Pied Piper blindly leading the rats and innocent children to a premature drowning and death.
The attacks were obviously aimed at the BBA Task Force efforts which, but for the rescissions, would be on the doorstep to calling a convention. As it is, the "live" count of BBA applications now rests at 28. The good thing coming from all this is that there are no more liberally controlled states within that count; however, the window for reaching 34 is a much more difficult task to accomplish than just a year ago.
As the attached AVC Legislative Progress Report reflects, the were steady gains in 2017 with the passage of eight Article V resolutions this year. That compares to nine which passed in 2016. It should be noted that as the movement advances, passage becomes more difficult.
This past year, the COS Project led the way passing in Arizona, Missouri, North Dakota and Texas. COSP appears primed to pass in North Carolina and Iowa next year with inroads in several other states built during 2017. I am particularly impressed with COSP's work in Illinois where they have established significant bi-partisan support in the House. It seems clear that bi-partisanship is a mandatory requirement in the future if any group is ever going to reach 34. The COSP resolution has now passed in 12 of the 34 required states.
The BBA Task Force successfully passed its resolution earlier in the year in Arizona and Wyoming. Last week, Wisconsin became the latest state to pass a BBA resolution when the Senate approved it by a 19-14 margin. Passage in Wisconsin is significant as it is the home state of the John Birch Society. Congratulations are in order for Sens. Craig and Kapenga, the entire GOP caucus in Wisconsin, Tim Dake, and BBA man-on-the-ground, Loren Enns. The BBATF counts 28 live applications at this point.
The Compact for America passed in Arizona this year bringing its count to five states. US Term Limits made notable progress this year and will be back targeting 6-10 states in 2018.
On another notable front, 13 states have now passed some version of a Delegate Selection/Limitation Act. Five states (AZ OK TX WI WY) passed these bills in 2017. We expect that the trend will continue, and once 26 states are on board, there will be still another nail in the coffin of the runaway convention argument.
Thanks to all of the groups for your cooperation in making this report better. I continue to promote my theme of everyone working together whenever possible. When one group succeeds, we all do. The opposition has come together to focus their attack on the Article V movement. The various groups within our movement would be well-served to come together formally and discuss how we too can be united as we move forward.
The Heartland Institute's experts on constitutional reform are available for legislative testimony, speaking engagements, and media interviews.