Not very often do you see Utah House archconservatives and liberals voting the same way on a bill with significant political consequences – but it happened Tuesday morning.
HJR8, sponsored by the man who would rather talk about the U.S. Constitution than eat, or sleep, or just about anything – Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan – would officially have Utah call for a constitutional convention of the states to amend the Constitution in several areas, passed the House by a 41-33 vote.
It is in those 33 “nay” votes that you find the strange-bedfellows’ handholding.
Just look at the first two on the official “no” tally – Anderegg and Arent.
That’s conservative Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, and liberal Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek.
On the political scale, you probably wouldn’t find two folks further apart.
All 12 House Democrats voted “no,” as did 21 Republicans, more than several committed conservatives.
HJR8 would have Utah participate in an Article V convention of the states for three possible amendments: “Impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.”
In a broad sense, on the liberal side, the question is whether to trust the federal bureaucracy and the massive federal spending that’s happened over time – many being programs that benefit the poor, underprivileged, uneducated, minorities and other traditional Democratic base voters.
For the conservative Republicans, it’s a fear that such a convention could be a “runaway” body, stripping the current divinely-inspired document of fundamental freedoms.
The 41 House members, all Republicans, who moved the bill to the Senate argued Tuesday not to fear any significant changes – for there are all kinds of safeguards built into the Article V process.
First off, Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, and GOP leaders in the House have been intimately involved in the Article V convention up to now – with Niederhauser hosting a select group of 40-plus state delegations in the Utah Capitol last summer – the goal to adopt the basic rules of any such convention of the states.
Ivory said 2016 may be the year that the constitutionally-required two-thirds of state legislatures pass similar convention calls (or already have done so) – and so Congress must organize such an Article V convention.
Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake, the only African-American in the 75-member House, said she wouldn’t trust such a convention.
Minorities, the poor, and other groups could well be ignored in the process, Hollins said.
“The rich and the powerful” would be making these decisions, she added, and “all would not be heard.”
After all, Hollins said, the original Constitution kept slavery legal in the United States.
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake, used to teach high school civics classes, and constitutional history and rights.
He said over the years 10,000 constitutional amendments have been introduced in Congress – the traditional route of amending our basic document.
But only 27 have passed – showing how well thought out and deliberative the process has been.
From the “left” side of the spectrum, he added, people are interested in some way to end the “obscene” amount of money it cost to run for and win, the U.S. presidency.
But it’s unlikely any convention of the states would deal with that issue.
He said Ivory’s HJR8 has “sweeping” language which would allow just about any amendment to be considered and passed by the convention.
“There is nothing to prevent billions of dollars” from being spent by special interest groups to influence both the convention and state legislatures to pass ill-conceived amendments – an ironic statement by Briscoe, considering that that very argument is being made by the “black helicopter” groups of far-right conspiracy.
But the more middle-of-the-road House Republicans said Congress, the federal courts, and the presidency have so warped the original intent of the Founding Fathers and Constitution that now is the “perfect” time to act to restore the balance of power with the states.
“This convention will be limited in scope,” said Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville.
He cited the built-in safeguards:
-- It takes two-thirds of states to call the convention – all limiting the topics.
-- Many states (Utah included) have controlled and limited what their convention delegates can debate or even vote on. Violate that Utah law and delegates would be recalled and prosecuted for a felony.
-- Whatever proposed amendments come out must be adopted by three-fourths of state legislatures – folks elected and trusted by voters.
It would take only 13 states out of 50 to stop any amendment.
It would take just 13 legislative bodies out of 99 – one state House, or one state Senate denying that state a “yes” amendment vote, to stop any amendment from being ratified.
In his weekly meeting with the media, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, who labels himself as a conservative, said he has no problem with HJR8, for he believes there will be ample checks to stop a runaway convention.
Officially Herbert doesn’t get a say in HJR8, by law, it only must be approved by the Utah Legislature.
“Today, the federal government would be totally unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers,” said Nelson.
“The Constitution is hanging in the balance. Now is the time to rebalance federalism in the country,” Nelson added.
Ivory said we should just imagine the fine delegates Utah could send to such a convention: U.S. Sen. Mike Lee; Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George; or perhaps Nelson.
Such men can be trusted to do the right thing, and uphold traditional philosophies of states’ rights, said Ivory.