I was ready to quit the Alaska Legislature in 1988. I’d spent two years in the Senate Minority and four in the Minority in the House. I was still in no position to challenge our corrupt senior Senator, Ted Stevens Leaving my family in Anchorage for four months a year while I played politics in Juneau was too much to ask of my wife. The boys were thirteen, twelve and nine and I needed to be a full time father and husband.
But I thought the Republicans in the House might win enough seats in the ’88 election to allow us to form a bipartisan majority coalition with the Bush Caucus, which had six votes. If so, as Republican Minority Leader, I had a chance to become Speaker, which would give me access to enough campaign cash to take Stevens on in the 1990 Republican primary.
It didn’t happen, and my last two years in Juneau were a waste of time. I handed off my position as Minority Leader to my buddy Robin Taylor of Wrangell, and planned on finishing my novel. Robin and I introduced HJR 54, calling for an Amendment Convention to propose a Term Limits Amendment. I knew it was dead on introduction, but I wanted it on the record.
Then in November of 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, and my book was obsolete. So much for my writing career. I wrote a cut and paste job about the Pope, called “Triumph of Faith, Pope John Paul II and the Fall of Communism,” but no publisher was interested.
Back in Anchorage in 1991, the editorial page editor of the liberal Anchorage Daily News, Mike Carey, offered me a biweekly column in their Sunday edition. This was a way to keep my name identification up, and also become the most prominent conservative voice in Alaska media.
I hadn’t given up on the Senate. If I couldn’t take out Stevens, there was my “friend” Frank Murkowski’s seat. Frank told me he really wanted to run for Governor, and that meant a vacant Senate seat. In 1993 or so the owner of KENI radio, Tom Tierney called and offered me a two hour slot weekday afternoons. KENI had Rush Limbaugh’s show, and was the first real talk radio station in Alaska. It covered all South Central Alaska, with over 60% of Alaska voters in its audience. To me this meant more name ID, and a greater voice in Alaska politics. I was still politically viable.
In 1995 the Supreme Court ruled in U. S. Term Limits v. Thornton that states were not allowed to term limit their own Congressional delegation. The people at U. S. Term Limits had made a mistake. They should have tried to use Article V. But now the term limits movement, and all Article V efforts, were dead in the water. Maybe some day down the road, I thought.
My friend and banker David Cuddy took Stevens on the 1996 primary, and I was all in. We planned to announce his candidacy on my radio show, and then I got a call from the station owner. A lawyer for Ted Stevens told him that they needed to get me to back off, or Stevens would cause them problems with their license renewal with the FCC. I had to cancel the Cuddy announcement or lose my show. I should have quit in protest, but I wanted to keep my platform, so I stayed on.
In 1998 I got a call from the Daily News, advising me that my column was being cancelled. No explanation. A few years later Mike Carey invited me to lunch, and explained what happened. Stevens was in their office for an interview with the editorial board, and the publisher asked him if there was anything they could do for him. Cancel Pettyjohn’s column, he said, so that’s what they did.
Also in 1998 Murkowski’s daughter, Lisa, won a seat in the Alaska House. I knew Lisa pretty well from her dad’s 1980 campaign, and I couldn’t see why she wanted to run for the state legislature. She was a young wife and mother, who didn’t really have what it takes to be a politician.
The mystery was solved, in my mind, in 2000 when she ran for reelection. To me, this meant one thing. Her dad would be running for Governor in 2002, and if he won he’d appoint her to serve the last two years of his term. I could stick around until 2004 and challenge her in the primary, but that might be hard to do. She’d have all the money in the world, the support of her father the Governor, Ted Stevens, and Rep. Don Young. She’d be a lousy candidate, and way too liberal for Alaska, but that was too steep a hill to climb.
So Babbie and I returned to California in the spring of 2001, after 27 years in Alaska. Our three boys were in the lower 48, and the stock market boom of the 90’s had given us enough money to retire on. Babbie wanted to be back in California with her family and friends. My political career was over.
I’d challenged the corrupt Hickel-Stevens political machine, and they beat me. I was a political failure. At the age of 56, I didn’t know what to do with my life. California politics was hopeless for a conservative Republican, and I had no connections in Washington D.C. I started watching a lot of baseball.
I remained a keen observer of American politics. I was disappointed, but not surprised, when Obama won in 2008. The folly of the Iraq War cost the Republicans the Presidency. That was easy to understand. But I was stunned when he was reelected in 2012. That shouldn’t have happened.
Was it a Democratic advantage in social media? Or had demographics and governmental dependency given the Democrats an unbeatable, and growing, majority? Obamacare would go into full effect in 2013, and a whole new federal entitlement would make the American people even more dependent on Washington. I was extremely depressed. Everything I believed in was in jeopardy. It looked like we’d lose the Supreme Court. And that meant losing the Constitution. I was as low as I’d ever been in my life.
Then, in October of 2013, everything changed. The introduction of Obamacare was a policy screw up and a political debacle. Obama, and every Democrat in Washington, had repeatedly lied to the American people in order to sell the bill. Those lies were political poison. American politics had taken a decisive shift to the right. The American people were turning against Washington.
This meant the Republicans were going to win the Senate in 2014, and the Presidency in 2016. And even more was possible. Article V was possible. The wave was going to be that big. My son Darren set up this website and blog, and with the Reagan Project I was back at what I loved, politics.
My search for an Article V movement led me back to Lew Uhler and the Balanced Budget Amendment. In 1983 Alaska had been the BBA’s 32nd state, but since then there had been sixteen rescissions. Still, with sixteen in the bank, we only needed 18 more. It could be done.
I went to the December, 2013 meeting of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council in Washington to meet the leaders of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, Dave Biddulph and Bill Fruth, a couple businessmen from Florida. I also met Mike Farris and Mark Meckler of the Convention of States, and a number of legislators, including Sen. Bill Cowsert of Georgia, Rep. Gary Banz of Oklahoma, Rep. Joe Harrison of Louisiana, Sen. Al Melvin of Arizona, Rep. Chris Kapenga of Wisconsin, Rep. Ken Ivory of Utah, Rep. Yvette Herrell of New Mexico, and Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Colorado.
The BBA Task Force sent me to Utah early in 2014 to help their sponsor, Rep. Kraig Powell. Lew Uhler’s NTLC picked up the tab. I was only in Salt Lake for a couple days, but I learned a lot. In places like Utah our opposition was the John Birch Society and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum. They were peddling the runaway convention story. It was a ridiculous argument, but they were politically strong enough to intimidate some Republicans into voting no.
And, more importantly, we’d get no help from the Democrats. The BBA had turned into a partisan proposal. Even though polling showed that 65% of Democratic voters favored a BBA, Democratic legislators were a different story. There were no blue dog Democrats left, and the Democratic Party was now the party of, by, and for the government.
This had enormous implications. It meant that no state legislative chamber controlled by Democrats, House or Senate, would ever pass a BBA Resolution. It also meant that two of our existing sixteen Resolutions from the 1970’s — in Delaware and Maryland — were in jeopardy. The Democrats were in control, and could rescind their old BBA Resolutions at any time.
This meant the Task Force was one state short of Republican target states, in order for us to get to 34. Unless Republicans picked up control of another legislature in the 2014 elections, we weren’t going to make it.
I wasn’t worried. I was counting on Kentucky. The Kentucky House was the last Democratically controlled chamber in the south. It was trending Republican, and their Democrat Speaker, Greg Stumbo, looked weak, politically.
I was surprised and disappointed when the Democrats kept the House in November of 2014. But I was shocked, and elated, that the West Virginia Senate had flipped, and Republicans had full control of the West Virginia legislature for the first time in 83 years. State Senator Bill Cole, a car dealer from Bluefield, had performed a political miracle, masterminding a massive shift in the Senate. The political shock wave of the Obamacare fiasco was still running strong. The BBA still had a shot at 34 states, with no Democrats needed.
In 2015 Bill Fruth and I went to Helena to work with our Montana sponsor, Rep. Matthew Monforton of Bozeman. With some money from Lew Uhler’s National Tax Limitation Committee, I’d sent letters to every Republican legislative candidate before the 2014 election. I explained Article V and the BBA, and asked for support. Matthew was the only response I got in Montana, and he was prepared to fight for our Resolution.
The Birchers are stronger in Montana than any state in the union, and we didn’t have the votes to get out of committee in the House. Then I met Ryan Clayton, who was in Helena to lobby for passage of the Wolf-pac Resolution, which called for an Amendment Convention on campaign finance reform. We decided to help each other out.
Ryan would get the Democrat votes we needed to get out of committee, and I’d lobby the Republican Speaker, Austin Knudsen, asking that the Wolf-pac Resolution be allowed a floor vote.
Ryan convinced Rep. Ellie Hill to help us out in committee, and she did, bringing two other Democrats with her. Now we had a tough floor vote ahead. Monforton identified 10 Democrats who would vote with us, so we had a decent chance.
These Democrats, like Ellie Hill, believed in Article V, and knew the talk of a runaway convention was a red herring. They just wanted to use it for a different purpose — campaign finance reform. Like the BBA, campaign finance reform has overwhelming, bipartisan support with the voters. But Congress would never do it. It has to be done with Article V.
Then Democratic Governor Steve Bullock told the Democrats to back off. He had been contacted by the Center for American Progress, a George Soros outfit, and asked to stop us. All the Democrats abandoned us, and it was game over.
So it was in Montana that Bill Fruth and I realized Soros, with all his money and front groups, was on to us. For years he had invested heavily in supporting Democrats in state legislatures across the country, and his price was killing the BBA, or any other Article V Resolution. It was getting tougher to see how we could win.
Delaware rescinded its BBA Resolution in 2015, and New Mexico and Nevada had been retaken by the Democrats. In 2017 Maryland, New Mexico and Nevada all rescinded. The BBA Task Force had been able to pass its Resolution in sixteen states, which would have given it 32, only two short. But with these rescissions we were barely alive with 28 states. Only the surprise 2016 Republican win in the Minnesota Senate, giving us one more target state, kept us mathematically alive.
To get to 34, the Task Force needed wins in Montana, Idaho, Virginia, South Carolina, Minnesota and Kentucky — all tough nuts to crack, although Kentucky looked easy enough. The Republican State Senate, at the urging of Sen. Rand Paul, had passed a BBA Resolution in 2013, and we had strong support in the House. There aren’t a lot of Birchers in Kentucky, so it looked like smooth sailing. Then Senator Mitch McConnell told the legislative leadership to kill the Resolution. He didn’t want a Balanced Budget Amendment, and he didn’t like Article V —- for obvious reasons.
Article V is how you drain the swamp, and Mitch McConnell gets along fine in the swamp just as it is. He’s the king of the swamp. He hates Article V. All creatures of the swamp hate Article V. It’s up to the people, acting through their state legislators, to drain that swamp. Article V is the constitutional procedure the Framers gave us for this precise reason. At least, they thought they did.
Wolf-pac has five states. The Convention of States, with its call for an essentially open amendment convention, has thirteen states, and small prospects for many more. The BBA Task Force currently has 28 states, and if the Colorado Senate flips Democratic in November, as it’s very likely to do, they’ll be down to 27, at most. Nobody can get to 34.
Due to a drafting error on the last hectic day of the Constitutional Convention, the states have never been able to call for an amendment convention, much less get the 2/3 vote needed to propose an amendment. The most critical feature of our Constitution, the amendment power, doesn’t work as intended, and Congress is free to run amok.
To fix Article V we don’t need citizen’s groups like Wolf-pac, the Convention of States, or the BBA Task Force. We don’t need an organization at all. We don’t need money, and we don’t need publicity. All we need is a critical mass of state legislators, Democrat and Republican, who unite on an ad hoc basis to amend Article V.
“Support the Constitution” is addressed to all 7,383 state legislators in the country, and all former legislators. We all swore the same oath. Let’s just do our duty. Let’s do what the Framers called on us to do.
Webster’s defines “support” as: “To hold up or in position; to bear the weight or stress of; to keep from sinking or falling; to uphold by aid or countenance; to take the side of; to verify or substantiate; to maintain; to comfort or strengthen.”
With respect to the Constitution, and Article V, it means “fix.” Let’s just do it.