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Part II of Democracy, oligarchy, a convention of states and the Michigan application -- (Part II)

By       Message Neal Herrick       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   3 comments

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The Michigan legislature may have set the stage for us to "alter our constitutions of government" (as Washington put it) for the first time. It is possible that, if Congress does its duty and calls a convention, or if the state legislatures lose patience and take matters into their own hands, the resultant constitutional alterations may do much to reverse our present decline.

The April vote in Lansing has gone virtually unnoticed by us and by our media. Yet of all the issues on our national agenda, the calling of a constitutional convention may be the one most deserving of our close attention. This is so because, without our active participation, a "convention of the states" may be called but might hurt more than it helps. Unless the use of private money in the election of delegates is prohibited, the convention would probably become little more than a replica of Congress. Here are several other questions that deserve our attention.

Should we fear a "runaway" convention?

If we fear democracy, the Declaration of Independence and Article V of the Constitution, we should fear a runaway convention. If we dispute Washington, disagree with Jefferson [1] and disregard Madison - we should also fear a runaway convention.

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If not, we should put our faith in ourselves rather than in our oligarchs. Assuming that its delegates are truly representative of our population and free from the influence of money, a "runaway" convention would give us an excellent chance of a revised Constitution that might well cure or moderate some of the problems, domestic and foreign, that plague us. It seems likely, at any rate, that a democratic US government created by a representative group of ordinary Americans delegates and approved by at least 38 other representative groups of ordinary Americans, would serve us better than our present oligarchy.

How can our NGO's assist us in this matter?

Our NGO's are divided both as to the nature of the amendment (s) needed and as to whether we should work with Congress or with the state legislatures to bring them about. Some believe we should seek comprehensive reform and others believe that simply overturning Citizens United and related decisions would be sufficient. [2] In this connection it should be noted that working with the state legislatures would not necessarily lead to a convention. As mentioned above, Madison did not see ". . . why Congress would not be as much bound to propose amendments applied for by two-thirds of the states as to call a convention on the like application."

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It should also be noted in this connection that we were living under an oligarchy before the Citizens United decision and would very likely continue to live under one even should Citizens United be overturned. Strict campaign finance legislation is certainly required, but whether or not it is sufficient by itself is another question. Term limits, a balanced budget, impeachment reform and other alterations are also critical.

What do the state legislatures need to do to make a true "convention of states?"

The first and most important need is to assure that there is no money involved in the selection or election of delegates to either the proposing convention or the subsequent ratifying conventions. Another important need is to provide for the education and training of delegates. These (and many other critical needs) can be met only by a central coordinating body established by the states. Since this body would necessarily be accountable to the state legislatures, the National Conference of State Legislatures might appropriately undertake this temporary coordinating role - if so authorized by the states. [3]

What can we do as individuals to exercise the collective right given us by the Declaration of Independence?

We can call or write our activist NGO's urging them to unite with other activist NGO'S to adopt the same approach to governmental reform. Then we can call or write our state senators and representatives urging them to transform the present Convention of States (COS) project into a multi-party effort aimed at creating a truly representative convention and, further, to support the creation of a body to coordinate the activities of the 50 state legislatures in connection with a possible convention.

[1] In his Sept. 6, 1789 letter to Madison, Jefferson wrote, "Every constitution . . . naturally expires at the end of 19 years . . . the earth belongs to the living and not to the dead."

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[2] For example, SJ 19, which was supported by Public Citizen and received a majority (but not the requisite 2/3 vote) in the Senate, reads, in part " Congress and the States may regulate and set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others to influence elections." A constitutional amendment would probably be far stronger. It would be unlikely to leave regulation up to Congress and the states. It might actually help restore our democracy be making the use of money in federal elections in any amount a felony .

[3] This coordinating body, of course, would not be a decision-maker. It could circulate policy and program proposals to the presidents of the legislative bodies of the several states. According to Wikipedia, the National Conference of State Legislatures' mission includes " Ensuring state legislatures a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system" and "Promoting policy innovation and communication among state legislatures."


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Neal Herrick is author of the award-wining After Patrick Henry (2009). His most recent book is (2014) Reversing America’s Decline. He is a former sailor, soldier, auto worker, railroad worker, assistant college football coach, (more...)

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