Stopping a Dangerous Article V Convention

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The Legislature’s con-con con job | Editorial

The Legislature’s con-con con job | Editorial

PUBLISHED: January 4, 2024 at 11:59 a.m. | UPDATED: January 4, 2024 at 12:05 p.m.

The 2024 Florida legislative session kicks into gear Tuesday, and the opening day’s agenda tells you all you need to know about what deserves immediate attention from the Republican supermajority.

Is it managing record-high property insurance and car insurance premiums? Improving housing affordability? Expanding the Medicaid safety net for children and the poor?

No. The “people’s House” will spend far more time on this election-year stagecraft Tuesday than it will all session on gun control, or LGBTQ rights, or free speech on campus.

The official House schedule calls for floor debate on two bills urging Congress to convene a constitutional convention to require a balanced federal budget and impose term limits on members of Congress. In a place where 90-plus percent of members hold safe and often gerrymandered seats, where 90-year-old Sen. Charles Grassley is in his eighth term, something tells us that’s just not happening.

But a balanced federal budget and term limits for career politicians — who could oppose that?

What you see isn’t real

If only that were the end of it. As with so much in Tallahassee, appearances are deceiving.
These two feel-good ideas are camouflage for something much more radical and sinister: a rewrite of the U.S. Constitution.

A runaway Article V convention without rules has the potential to do anything — repeal the concept of the separation of church and state, repeal birthright citizenship, close the borders to nearly all immigration, allow states to override acts of Congress, or remove the two-term limit for presidents.

This is a con job. Lobbyists and special interests have such a tight grip on Florida’s Capitol that the first question a voter should ask about a proposed constitutional convention (con-con for short), is: So who’s behind this? Who’s pulling their strings?

The answer is not hard to find. For years, the idea of a constitutional convention has been a pet project of a corporate-funded, right-wing group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a “bill mill,” lavishly funded by right-wing think tanks and big corporations, that grinds out cookie-cutter bills, marketed to gullible red-state lawmakers and touted as “model legislation” while serving the interests of its wealthy donors. The right-wing billionaire Charles Koch is a major ALEC benefactor.

The Center for Media and Democracy reports that a recent ALEC conference in Arizona advocated for a rewrite of the Constitution, our nation’s foundational document, for the first time in American history. The citizens’ lobby Common Cause calls the nationwide movement for a convention “the most serious threat to our democracy, flying almost completely under the radar.”

Detached from reality

A memo to House members from a key member of GOP leadership, state Rep. Daniel Perez, R-Miami, says the time set aside for this so-called issue is “not to exceed” about two-and-a-half hours, not including time spent debating each amendment to each bill. In a compressed 60-day session, that’s precious time that can’t be recovered.

It’s just one more political sideshow to divert attention from major challenges in education, health care and the environment. It is clear evidence of legislators’ detachment from the realities that their constituents face daily.

What can you do? Sign Common Cause’s online petition opposing an Article V convention. Track how your legislator votes on these bad bills. Then vote against anybody who thinks this is a good idea.

House leaders fast-tracked this insidious Trojan horse by giving it one perfunctory hearing that lasted for an hour on Dec. 12. The State Affairs Committee passed the term limits resolution, 15 to 2, and the balanced budget proposal, 14 to 3. Reps. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, and Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, are the only lawmakers who sensibly voted against both resolutions.

Bartleman said a constitutional convention would be “clouded in uncertainty” and warned: “Be careful what you wish for.” Democrats will persist Tuesday with amendments intended to gut these bad bills.
Eskamani’s proposal is almost a parody of the original, but it gets the point across. It says in part: “Be it further resolved that this concurrent resolution is inherently risky since there are no rules for an Article V Convention outlined in the Constitution of the United States, which means the group of people potentially convening to rewrite the Constitution of the United States could be unelected and unaccountable.”

It is only slightly reassuring that a constitutional convention will be very hard to pull off, which is why it has not happened since 1787.

Thirty-four of the 50 states must call for a convention to be held, and amendments approved by a convention then require ratification by three-fourths of the states (38). But none of that changes the fact that the Florida House will get this session off to a very bad start.

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Opinion Editor Dan Sweeney, opinion writer Martin Dyckman and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at letters@sun-sentinel.com.

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