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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Ask Candidates Where They Stand on a Constitutional Convention

Now is the time, as the campaign season starts, to challenge candidates to take a stand on government's ultimate accountability to the people through the Constitutional amendment process. A good case can be made that Congress has been remiss on this point for over a century, but as this may seem like a rather arcane and technical argument, I have not chosen to focus on that aspect for now. I've started by writing Ruth Damsker, a candidate for the PA state legislature who spoke last week at a meeting of Philadelphia's Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club. Copied below is what I wrote.

Dear Ms. Damsker,

I heard you speak at Liberty City's State of the Races meeting. I am pleased that you are running as a supporter of our community.

There is something I like to ask all candidates for the state house or senate. Many people are dissatisfied with the way our government works these days, even if there's no consensus on what the solutions are. People may focus on overturning Citizens United, or Hobby Lobby, or some other Supreme Court decision. They may want to adopt the Equal Rights Amendment, or DC statehood, or to repeal the Second Amendment. The Constitutional process for making amendments one at a time may seem laborious, but there's an alternative, specifically intended for times when most people are dissatisfied even though they're not sure yet what the answers are.

One of the Framers (I think it was Madison) commented that the new Republic's government ruled by the consent of the governed, and that the people can withdraw this consent at any time by petitioning Congress for a Constitutional Convention. This is provided for in Article V, which says that Congress, "on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments." It goes on to stipulate that any amendments so proposed must still be ratified by three-fourths of the states, the same as if they had simply been passed by a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress.

The advantage of this process over the other one is that it creates an open forum in which every aspect of government that might use revision can be looked at with fresh eyes at one time, in a coherent way, instead of piecemeal. The other advantage is that it provides a way for everyone who's dissatisfied with the status quo to work together, instead of at cross purposes, on the common project of "withdrawing our consent" through the Article V process, and then have a collective discussion at the Convention through which we can seek consensus on what kinds of changes we want.

I am strongly in favor of having the PA legislature petition Congress for an Article V convention, and hope that if elected you will introduce a motion for one. If you need more information, visit Friends of the Article V Convention at www.foavc.org, where you will see that this is an issue supported by people from all parts of the political spectrum. I look forward to hearing your opinion on this matter.

Thank you for your attention.

Having sent the above to Ms. Damsker, I will now write my current state representative and senator as well as anyone who may be running to fill their shoes. I encourage others to do likewise, borrowing as much or as little of the above as you like.

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