UPDATED VERSION: Corrects the names of the committees involved in passage.
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The Convention of States movement to rein in the ever-expanding federal government has been energized in the first three months of a Biden administration governing by executive fiat, according to a leader of the national campaign.
Conservative activist Mark Meckler, president of Convention of States Action, says Wisconsin could very well be the next state to call for a convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution to propose amendments imposing fiscal restraints on federal government, limiting its power and jurisdiction and placing term limits on members of congress.
“We’re at 15 states but the energy is extraordinarily high right now,” Meckler said.
“What we are witnessing is a radical administration that is ruling by executive fiat. The only way to rein that in at the state level is through the Legislature, and the only way to do that at the federal level is through a Convention of States,” Meckler said.
As of Friday, Biden had signed more than 60 executive actions, about one-third of them reversing Trump administration policies.
‘Guardians of liberty’
It takes 34 states signing on for Congress to convene a convention under Article V, and it takes 38 states — three-quarters — to ratify an amendment.
Seven years in, the Convention of States movement has caught fire, Meckler said. It has attracted more than 5 million people. Forty-nine states have introduced COS legislation, 30 have passed the measures out of committee and 23 Legislature’s have passed COS bills in one house or the other.
Wisconsin has been in the latter camp, with the resolution dying in the Senate last session after passage in the Assembly. But Meckler believes there is momentum in Wisconsin this year, particularly because it could be one of the few wins conservatives can take home to their constituents. The resolution can’t be vetoed by liberal Gov. Tony Evers, who also has attempted to rule by executive order during his two-plus years in office.
The resolution recently passed out of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Legal Review and Consumer Protection, after winning the approval of the Assembly Committee on Constitution and Ethics in March. It is is expected to be taken up on the floor of the Assembly and Senate in May.
The resolution notes that the constitution’s founders empowered state legislators to be “guardians of liberty against future abuses of power by the federal government.” Said federal government has gone on to create a “crushing national debt through improper and imprudent spending” and has “invaded the legitimate roles of the States through manipulative processes of federal mandates, most of which are unfunded to a great extent.”
State Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) said the nation in less than three months has seen “liberals pass trillion-dollar stimulus bills without any long-term plan or sense of fiscal responsibility.”
“Right now, Wisconsin must say enough is enough and assert our constitutional ability to rein in the out-of-control federal government,” Bradley said. “Passing the Convention of States resolution — which doesn’t need obstructionist Gov. Evers’ support to become reality — is an essential step to asserting Wisconsin’s authority and checking these shameless abuses of power in Washington.”
Another Convention of States resolution would only include term limits on congress. Meckler called that proposal a “total waste of time and actually dangerous.” He said longevity in congressional politics is a symptom of the problem.
“The reason people go to Washington, D.C. forever is because there’s a lot of fun there,” he said. And a lot of power. Lawmakers can spend all kinds of money without worrying about the consequences. Without limits on the federal bureaucrats who control the real levers of power and without fiscal constraints, limiting the tenure of representatives and senators will mean little, Meckler said.
‘Runaway convention’ fears
There are critics of the multi-amendment Convention of States, particularly conservatives concerned about a “runaway convention” in which leftists could push amendment proposals that would erode the constitution and expand government power.
But radicals express the same fears about conventions led by conservatives.
“What do the John Birch Society, Eagle Forum, Common Cause and Planned Parenthood have in common? They all oppose the states’ use of Article V of our Constitution to impose and enforce constitutional limits on Washington,” wrote David Horowitz, bestselling author and founder of the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
More than 230 progressive groups, led by the George Soros-funded Common Cause, have signed onto a coalition to oppose the use of Article V and the Convention of States.
Contrary to the fears from some on the right and most on the left, Horowitz writes, applications that trigger the convention can limit the scope of a the convention. In the COS example, the movement is limited to three specific amendment proposals.
Horowitz also notes that the commissioners to the convention act as representatives of the state legislatures that appoint them.
“Any actions outside the scope of that authority would be void as a matter of common law agency principles, as well as any state laws adopted to specifically address the issue,” he wrote.
Despite the challenges, Meckler said Wisconsin appears poised to lead the next wave of states calling for a convention of states.
“I do think Wisconsin is on track to be the 16th state.”