In response to a request from Bill Fruth of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, the Arizona Legislature has called a Convention of States for the purpose of planning for an eventual Article V BBA Convention. Response from the 32 red states has been very positive, and a quorum of 26 sates will certainly send Commissioners. But none of the fourteen blue states has shown any inclination to participate, and in the four split states the Democratic presiding officers have not shown any interest. Of the 99 legislative presiding officers, 32 are Democrats. None of them, not one, wants anything to do with a Balanced Budget Amendment. It’s highly unlikely any of them will agree to send delegates to a Convention solely devoted to the BBA.
In thinking about what subject matter can realistically be addressed by Article V, polls are misleading. 80% of Americans want Congressional term limits. It’s bipartisan. But the people who count, state legislators, don’t like term limits. They don’t like it when their terms are limited, and many are content with their Congressional delegation, and its seniority. So passing term limits with Article V is an extremely tough sell. The experience of the Convention of States organization (CoS) tells the tale. Their Resolution includes a call for term limits, and this has kept their total of Resolutions passed down to twelve. It won’t get any easier for them.
It’s the same with the Balanced Budget Amendment. 80% of the public wants one, including 65% of Democrats. But the people who count, Democratic state legislators, want nothing to do with a BBA. This is why they won’t send delegates to Phoenix.
The last Democratic State Legislator to cast a deciding vote in favor of a BBA Article V Resolution was my mentor, Senator Bob Ziegler of Ketchikan. The Alaska State Senate was split 10-10, and Bob’s deciding vote brought the count up to 32 states. This was in 1983. It’s been downhill ever since, as far as getting Democratic support.
To be truly successful, the Phoenix Convention of States needs to be bipartisan. Anything having to do with Article V has to be bipartisan. No political party can unilaterally amend the Constitution. There are three exceptions: the 13th, 14th, and 15th — the Civil War amendments. The Democrats couldn’t stop them, because they were in secession.
When the Phoenix Convention convenes, it becomes the master of its own fate. Unlike an Article V Convention, it is not limited by the scope of the call. So if a majority of the states present wish to take up a subject not included in the call, they are free to do so. The majority will rule.
Only if its agenda is expanded will Democrats participate, and the Phoenix Convention succeed.