Our Opinion: Delay gives states’ convention call a second chance

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A grassroots movement to rein in the federal government suffered a setback before the N.C. General Assembly’s Fourth of July recess, but lawmakers didn’t close the door on calling for a Convention of States.

Senate Joint Resolution 36, which would add North Carolina’s name to the list of states authorizing a convention to propose constitutional amendments, failed in a 59-53 House vote June 29. But the idea enjoys leadership’s support — House Speaker Tim Moore, Majority Leader John Bell and Rules Chairman David Lewis all cast affirmative votes — so the proposal wasn’t swept aside.

Nearly six hours after its defeat, the Convention of States resolution was resuscitated. By a 66-45 margin, lawmakers referred it to the House Rules Committee and decided to make it eligible for a do-over vote.

Moore, R-Cleveland, said it could be considered again during the 2018 short session but isn’t likely to see another vote this calendar year, according to the News & Observer.

In the next six months, high-ranking House members could work to sway the 19 Republicans who opposed the convention call and reach across the aisle for Democratic support. Only one Democrat, Rep. William Brisson of Bladen County, supported the Senate resolution.

Organizers of the Convention of States project are lobbying legislatures coast-to-coast in an effort to win approval in at least 34 states. Reaching the two-thirds threshold would trigger a convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution.

The movement is officially nonpartisan but has been embraced by conservatives, libertarians and Tea Party members who want to require a balanced budget, impose term limits on congressmen and senators and limit the federal government’s power where state and local issues are concerned.

Jim DeMint, a former U.S. senator representing South Carolina who spent the last four years leading the Heritage Foundation think tank, recently brought his star power to the national convention campaign, joining fellow former Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Organizers’ stated goals aren’t controversial among conservatives and moderates, though some progressives chafe at tight controls on federal spending, believing they limit investment in worthy programs that create jobs and improve Americans’ lives.

Most opponents cite overblown fears of a “runaway convention,” as constitutional scholars doubt convention delegates would be bound to honor state-issued restrictions on proposed amendments. But even if wild and woolly amendments emerge from the convention floor, they wouldn’t be tacked onto the U.S. Constitution unless three-fourths of the 50 states ratify them.

“We’ve already got a runaway Congress and runaway courts,” DeMint told the Times. “The chance of a runaway convention that produces amendments that 38 states ratify — really, there is no chance. The states have to exercise their shared responsibility.”

The Times has long favored term limits and responsible spending. We recognize that Congress isn’t likely to propose constitutional amendments that chip away at its own power, so the Convention of States is the best remaining alternative.

Six months is plenty of time for state legislators to do some soul-searching. When the Convention of States resolution is back on the agenda, doubters will have a second chance to make the right choice.