Convention of States bill set for vote today

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RALEIGH — Jim DeMint couldn’t convince his Capitol Hill colleagues to balance the budget, but he says state lawmakers wield untapped power to shrink federal spending and cut Washington down to size.

The Tea Party star and former U.S. senator from South Carolina is urging leaders in the Republican-controlled N.C. House to approve a Convention of States resolution today.

“It’s not only important to North Carolina, I think it’s the only way to save our nation from an economic tailspin,” DeMint said Tuesday. “It really is that serious.”

Senate Joint Resolution 36 seeks to call for a states’ convention in order to propose constitutional amendments as provided in Article V of the U.S. Constitution. After clearing the N.C. Senate on a 29-20 vote in late-April, the bill was shelved in the House Rules Committee.

DeMint added firepower to grassroots organizers’ eleventh-hour lobbying efforts, meeting with House members Monday and Tuesday and urging them to bring the Senate resolution to a vote on the floor.

“We had a good day and a lot of positive contacts,” DeMint said. “Everyone we’ve talked to who’s part of the chain of command seems pretty supportive of the process.”

Supporters also brought an unconventional calling card — a llama draped with a red, white and blue blanket and sporting a sash of star-spangled bows — to the grounds outside the Legislative Office Building. Curious onlookers posed for smartphone selfies with the llama.

DeMint said the woolly welcome wagon was a supportive citizen’s idea that happened to coincide with his visit to the General Assembly.

House leadership moved SJR 36 from the Rules Committee — often used as a bill graveyard — to the Judiciary IV panel on Tuesday. Several members of that committee sponsored an identical House version of the Senate resolution.

The resolution received a favorable report in committee Wednesday and is scheduled for a vote on the House floor today.

DeMint, a former three-term congressman, was known as a deficit hawk during his eight-year stint in the Senate. He resigned in 2012 and spent four years at the helm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

“There’s no way Washington will ever stop spending or balance the budget,” DeMint said. “It’s no longer structurally possible to do that. The chance of ever even reducing the growth of spending has been pretty remote.”

The alternative? Harness the states’ power to amend the Constitution, requiring Congress to pass balanced budgets, imposing term limits for elected and appointed officials and shifting the balance of power to the states that created the federal government.

Article V authorizes a convention for proposing constitutional amendments upon the call of two-thirds (34) of the 50 states. Proposed amendments would take effect if ratified by three-fourths (38) of the state legislatures.

North Carolina would be the 13th state with an active convention call if the Senate resolution is enacted. Resolutions typically remain active indefinitely unless they are repealed or contain a sunset clause.

“We’re just hoping North Carolina will be the springboard, the tipping point, that will help us get another 20 states next year,” DeMint said. “I think there’s a very good chance that within the next couple of years, we’ll have 34 states.”

Language in the resolution limits the convention’s purpose to consideration of amendments “that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.”

Championed by conservative and independent voters who believe Washington has grown beyond the Founding Fathers’ blueprint, the Convention of States movement has sparked concern among progressives who fear a rollback of civil rights laws.

DeMint stressed that the Convention of States movement is nonpartisan and said some Democrats frustrated by President Donald Trump’s administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are giving the process a second look.

“This is not a philosophical idea,” he said. “It’s plainly there in the Constitution that our founders gave us two ways to amend the Constitution. There’s nothing radical about it. There’s nothing risky about it. People should know this is just part of a constitutional process that should have been accessed many years ago.”

Some constitutional scholars say delegates to a states’ convention would not necessarily be bound by state resolutions that limit the range of issues under consideration, creating the potential for a “runaway convention.”

Those cautions are unfounded, DeMint said, because any proposed amendments would still require approval from 38 state legislatures. The convention merely provides an end-run around Congress, which is not likely to propose amendments to limit its own power.

“We’ve already got a runaway Congress and runaway courts,” DeMint said. “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. Washington is going to bankrupt our country. I’m certain of it. People say there’s a risk in a states’ convention. I can tell you the risk is continuing to do the same thing.”

DeMint is the second former U.S. senator to throw his support behind the Convention of States movement and lobby statehouses to issue the call. Tom Coburn, the junior senator from Oklahoma from 2005-15, made the rounds in Raleigh earlier this year.

Wilson County’s lawmakers were split along party lines in the Convention of States resolution vote held April 26. Sen. Rick Horner, R-Wilson, voted to pass the measure while Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, opposed the convention call.

DeMint said Tar Heels who want to see federal power reined in, congressional terms limited and balanced budgets passed should contact their state House members and urge them to support Senate Joint Resolution 36.

“I would encourage citizens to call or email or text their House district representatives and encourage them to push for a vote and vote yes on this,” he said.

cfriedman@wilsontimes.com | 265-7813