Mark Levin’s new book The Liberty Amendments proposes that state legislatures use their Article V power to call a convention to propose new constitutional amendments for state ratification. The unorthodox process seems impractical at first — it’s never been used, it’s off the mainstream political radar, few people even know it exists, etc. — but a closer look reveals transformative advantages over the prevailing political strategies of the day.
1. Conservatives’ Washington-centric focus has born little fruit.
America’s news coverage and political mindset revolve around Washington D.C. and, by its nature, Washington D.C. revolves around big government. It is a culture that is embarrassed by constitutionalism, gravitates toward racial, gender, and ethnic politics, and works to convince conservatives to abandon their best ideas and arguments out of political fear.
The Potomac is poor ground for a constitutional battle.
2. Money and the establishment make it unlikely to get solid conservatives in federal office.
Winning U.S. Senate candidates spend an average of $10.4 million per race. The average successful House race costs $1.6 million. Citizens who can marshal such vast resources are rare. Rarer still is a candidate with such wealth who has developed political convictions strong enough withstand Washington’s corrupting onslaught.
Non-megabucks candidates generally climb the political ladder slowly, building a fund-raising base as they go. Unfortunately, that method leads legislators to scratch innumerable backs on the way to the House and Senate. Each deal made, each unsavory compromise reached, each postponement of what they originally ran for in order to ensure a safe reelection dulls the conservatives’ senses and leads to legislators whose only elite skill is winning another term.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than the current Republican caucus of the US Senate. There are perhaps eight to 13 reliably conservative members in the entire group. Turning those 13 into 60 is a worthy goal, but given the shallow pool from which we have to draw, “elect more Republicans” appears to be a weak strategy.
3. Ideas like a balanced budget amendment are destined to fail in Washington, but remain popular around the country, even in blue states.
Because Democrats rely so heavily on government largesse both to appear compassionate and dole out dollars to their constituencies, a balanced budget amendment will likely never garner sufficient House and Senate support to pass. However, the amendment is very popular among the voters who would send those same big-spending Democrats to Washington.
4. Many State legislators still remember why they first ran for office
In what feels like a lifetime ago, a newly elected John Boehner charged into Congress as an anti-establishment reformer, quick to call out his more senior Republican colleagues for timidity. Over two decades later, Boehner now emulates the same establishment he railed against in his first few terms.
Just as in Boehner’s case, time, adversity, and proximity to power change virtually all politicians. The idealism that accompanies so many young representatives is scarcely detectable by the time they arrive at the nation’s capital.
State legislators are often different. They are typically earlier in their political career, many have full-time non-political jobs, and most are not as beaten down by the media and liberal political culture as their federal counterparts.
Even many Democrats are more grounded on the state level. It’s true that states like California and Massachusetts are very liberal, but how far-fetched is it to believe the legislatures of West Virginia, New Mexico (Dem controlled) and Kentucky (Dem house, GOP senate) could be persuaded to vote for a convention to propose something like federal term limits?
5. Republicans already control all or part of many of state legislatures
A convention to propose amendments requires 34 state legislatures to sign on. Currently, 27 legislatures are majority Republican in both houses. The GOP control one chamber in five more states. The nation’s only non-partisan legislature is in Nebraska, a solid red state.
In other words, right now, without any electoral push, getting at least one legislative body in 33 of the 34 states required is simply a matter of convincing Republicans. This bears repeating. Presently, 97% of the state legislatures needed for a convention are completely or partially controlled by the GOP. Compare that to a 45%-Republican U.S. Senate and a 53%-Republican House.
Given the current make-up of the federal and state legislatures, which goal seems more achievable, the simultaneous elections of a strong conservative speaker (it’s been nearly two decades since the short-lived Gingrich takeover), a constitutionalist president (Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge are the only two in the last 100 years), and 60 reliable conservatives in the Senate (which last happened in the 1920s), or to convince a few purple states to call for a convention?
Any pro-constitutionalist strategy must recognize the sense of hopelessness that persists among many conservatives in the wake of the 2012 elections. Besides the disappointment in the results themselves, the post-election performance of GOP has been a disaster. Whatever post-2012 motivation remained to fight for the national Republicans has all but vanished.
To add to conservatives’ frustration, repairing the damage through the electoral process seems overwhelming. Tireless grass-roots efforts in 2010 and 2012 have yielded few substantive victories. Swing voters who seem endlessly deceived by phony media narratives and pop-culture irrelevancies combine with a feckless GOP leadership to feed the growing sense of powerlessness.
Given the condition of the country and tenor of the national debate, a new strategy is needed. A state-ordered convention simultaneously transcends federal-level impediments and harnesses the conservatives’ current and potential strength in state legislatures around the country.
The amendment convention strategy is undoubtedly unorthodox, but it also appears to be the most practical method whereby America can restore constitutional governance.