Norton, and to a lesser extent Leger, in debate about a bill that would require elementary schoolchildren to have knowledge of the Declaration of Independence, showed they lacked a basic understanding of the parchment’s content and context as the foundation of the Constitution. But when debating the merits of SCR 52 by Republican state Sen. Dan Claitor, which would have the state authorize a constitutional convention to consider limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, imposing fiscal restraints upon its activities, and limiting the terms of office that may be served by its officials and by members of Congress, other Democrats also began skidding off the rails.
Democrat state Rep. Mike Danahay stayed more on the tracks than others with a proposed amendment to disallow the convention from considering changes to the Bill of Rights, or the first ten amendments (practically speaking, the first eight). But as floor manager Republican state Rep. Ray Garofalo pointed out, to amend the version Claitor presented would make it incongruent with calls from several other states, and for states to initiate a convention on the three items alone the resolution from each needed essentially identical wordings. Thus, Danahay’s amendment, even as on the surface it appeared to help the cause, actually served as a poison pill and the body rightly rejected it.
Paranoia surfaced when Democrat state Rep. Pat Smith then raised concerns about such a convention deciding to excise portions that guaranteed rights regardless of race and sex. This proves the unaware Smith must live in an alternative reality, for no elected official at the state or federal level in the country, much less any prominent political figure anywhere who doesn’t wear sheets, suggests ridding the document of those protections.
Still, even that Democrats alleged the possibility of these scenarios demonstrates an irrational fear that a convention would make changes that ineluctably would strip Americans of their basic freedoms. Such a view of a malicious runaway convention strains credulity, for, as Garofalo noted, the convention idea has three basic checks to prevent this from happening: the limited call, the ability of state to appoint “ambassadors” to it that faced recall if they deviated from the call, and that three-quarters of the states would have to approve of any changes. Such safeguards make it more likely that armed revolution would break out that would dispense with the Constitution than a convention would return a product altering in any way the Bill of Rights.
The minority party then attempted to instill fear with a countenance of reason when its state Rep. Gary Carter insisted that inherently conventions had an unlimited nature. However, as Garofalo and constitutional lawyer Republican Rep. Mike Johnson indicated, the vast preponderance of scholarship disagrees with that fringe view and historical practice also vindicates the possibility of limiting a convention. Regardless, even if hypothetically no limits on a convention existed, the fact remains that states could recall ambassadors or, in the last resort, reject whatever entire product strayed beyond the boundaries of the call.
Carter also had an amendment rejected that pandered to Smith’s fantasies that likewise would have acted as a poison bill. Wisely, the House joined the Senate in approving the language without amendment; tellingly, in the Senate all Republicans voted for it while most Democrats did not and in the House few Republicans did not vote for it while almost all Democrats voted against it.
The partisan results do not come about by accident, for elected Democrats at all levels of government see these amendments as a direct assault on their ideology of governance. Any attempt to restrain federal government power and the near-permanence of members of Congress hampers government’s ability to take the people’s resources and redistribute these to empower government elites and the special interests that back them. This explains the argumentation against the resolution that approached hysteria at times.
So while ignorance, if not lack of reason, might have created Democrats’ objections to the measure, good old need to protect their and their allies’ power and privilege may have had quite a bit to do with it as well.