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To Fix Washington, Group Says States Should Amend The Constitution

Christopher Connelly/KERA News
Mark Meckler, who co-founded the Convention of States project, told a crowd in Fort Worth that the only way to fix the federal government is to amend the constitution.

We're just weeks away from picking a new president and congress. But for some, that's nowhere near enough change. It’s not hard to find an audience in Texas receptive to the message that the federal government is in need of a drastic fix. One group has an ambitious plan to do just that.

When Mark Meckler addressed the crowd of about a hundred Texans who gathered in a north Fort Worth church last night, he said both liberals and conservatives see dysfunction when they look at the capital. Until the states get together to fix it, he said, Washington will remain broken.

“Some people say never Trump, some people say never Hillary. I say never mind, because it’s really up to us the people. We were given this power,” he said.

Meckler is a conservative activist. He founded the Tea Party Patriots back in 2009. Now, he’s part of a national organization calling for a convention of states.

Article V in the US Constitution offers two paths to make amendments. All 27 current amendments were done one way: through Congress, and then ratified by the states.

Meckler said it’s time to try the other path laid out by the founding fathers: When two-thirds of the states call for it, they can convene a convention of states to propose amendments to the constitution.

“The prediction was that that constitution would be destroyed by the federal government – that it would usurp powers – and that the methodology that the founders gave us, the tool they gave us to use, was Article V,” Meckler said.

The effort has broad appeal among many conservative. Most of the Republican presidential candidates expressed support for a convention of states.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has spent the better part of the past year pushing his nine-point plan for constitutional reform. Abbott’s deputy, Andrew Oldham, said the federal government is too big and too powerful.

“They are unelected bureaucrats, and they come up with rules, and they dictate every nook and cranny and facet of modern American life,” he said. “And not only is that bad because the cause of liberty suffers. But it’s also illegitimate because the constitution doesn’t allow it, it forbids it.”

Since the Constitutional Convention in 1787, there have been several efforts to get the states to call for a new convention to amend the Constitution. None have ever been successful.

But Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University, says it’s not fair to call it a pipe dream.

“The odds are not particularly in favor of this happening, but you know crazy things happen in American politics,” Riddlesperger said. “And if there are groundswells of support from the grassroots for reform, the American system really is set up to allow reform to happen.”

Still, Riddlesperger said there’s a lot of skepticism for the idea from all sides of the political spectrum – mainly, that we’d totally screw up the constitution in the process

“Once you start a reform movement of this sort, it’s unclear who is going to control it,” he said.

Any amendment coming out of a convention of states would still need approval from three-quarters of the states. Back at the town hall, Meckler said that means his movement has to reach beyond conservatives to get the support needed to make changes to the Constitution.

“You’ve got to get democrats. It’s just the way it is. And I think that’s a good thing. The founders designed it this way. We’re not intended to be able to amend our constitution lightly,” he said.

So far, only eight state have passed legislation calling for a convention of states. Thirty-four are needed to call the convention. The Texas House passed a bill last year, but it failed in the Senate. Lawmakers plan to take up the effort again next year.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.