Draining the Swamp with Article V

The publication of Rep. Ken Buck's Drain the Swamp: How Washington Corruption is Worse than You Think could not be more timely.  The campaign for Buck's recommended corrective – the use of Article V, by the states, to adopt a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) – is at a critical phase.

Thirty-four state resolutions are required in order for Congress to call an Article V Amendment Convention, where the proposed language of a BBA would be drafted before being sent back to the states for ratification by three quarters of them.  For seven years, the BBA Task Force has been working in state capitols to pass such resolutions and today has 28 in hand.  The remaining target Legislatures – all under complete Republican control – are Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Montana, and Idaho.  Vigorous campaigns to adopt BBA resolutions are underway in all of them, and there is a clear path to 34 in 2018.

It may well be 2018 or never for an Article V BBA.  Forces funded in large part by George Soros and his network of organizations are dead set in opposition.  Working with the traditional opponents of Article V – principally the John Birch Society – these groups were able to stop passage of the Article V BBA resolution in Montana in 2015.  They also convinced the Democrat leadership of the Delaware and Maryland Legislatures to rescind BBA resolutions passed in the 1970s.  Moreover, they were able to elect new Democratic majorities in the Nevada and New Mexico Legislatures in the 2016 election.  As a result, New Mexico rescinded its 1970s BBA resolution, and a similar rescinding resolution has passed the Nevada Senate and awaits action in the House.

Even if Nevada does rescind, the remaining Republican-controlled Legislatures in the seven states listed above will be able to reach the goal of 34 in 2018.  There are no other states where Democrats have the power to rescind.  However, Republican strength in state legislatures is at a historic high, with 33 of 50 under total Republican control.

As the 2016 losses in New Mexico and Nevada demonstrate, any state that reverts to Democratic control could quickly rescind its BBA resolution.  If the Colorado Senate turns Democratic in 2018, its resolution will likely be rescinded, putting the goal of 34 out of reach without Democrat help.  And George Soros has purchased enough clout in the Democratic Party to prevent that from happening.

Soros has selected Common Cause as his principal vehicle to oppose the BBA.  Their anti-BBA campaign is an exercise in hypocrisy.  They claim to oppose not the BBA itself, but the use of Article V to achieve it.  Their rescission campaigns in Maryland, New Mexico, and Nevada focus exclusively on the danger of a runaway Article V Convention.  Their rescinding resolutions make no reference to the BBA, instead seeking to repeal any and all pending Article V resolutions.

And yet, on their home web page, linked above, they ask their followers to "Take Action – Californians, Help Overturn Citizens United."  But there's only one way to get that done, and it's by using Article V.  Left-wing Wolf-Pac seeks to do just that and has passed Article V resolutions in five states and is active in state capitols across the country.  As the link on their home page demonstrates, Common Cause has supported Wolf-Pac's campaign in the past.  But that's down the memory hole now that they have signed on with George Soros.

Two hundred leftist organizations have banded together with Common Cause to kill the BBA.  They will team up with the John Birch Society in 2018 in an all-out war on the entire Article V movement.  If we're ever going to drain the swamp, it has to happen next year.

The most potent opponent of the BBA in the Republican target states will be not Common Cause, but the John Birch Society.  They are particularly strong in the Mountain West, and while victories have recently been won in Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona, the Birchers and their right-wing allies have stopped BBA resolutions in Montana and Idaho.  There are pockets of Bircher strength as well in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Virginia.  The fear of a runaway convention is their only selling point.

In order to counteract such arguments, the Arizona Legislature, under the leadership of Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Senate president Steve Yarbrough, recently passed HCR 2022, which contains a call for the first national Convention of States since the Washington Peace Conference of 1861.  The purpose of the convention, to be held in Phoenix on September 12, 2017, is to propose the rules and procedures that would be used at a subsequent Article V Amendment Convention, which will convene once 34 BBA resolutions have been passed.

As in all such conventions in American history, voting will be one state, one vote.  In their deliberations, the commissioners to the Phoenix Convention will demonstrate to the right-wing skeptics that an Article V Convention will not run away – in fact, it is opposed to running away.  It is expected that the commissioners to Phoenix selected by the presiding officers of the 99 state legislative chambers will be, by and large, the same individuals who would be appointed to attend an actual Article V BBA Convention in 2018.  If this Convention of States succeeds, the path to 34 in 2018 will be cleared.

Representative Buck is to be congratulated on Draining the Swamp.  It could not have come at a better time.  With his help, the campaign to use Article V for the first time in American history will succeed next year.  We won't just drain the swamp.  We'll restore a bedrock principle of the Constitution: federalism, or the dispersal of political power.

Fritz Pettyjohn is a former Alaska House minority leader and state senator.  He blogs at ReaganProject.com.

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