A push by conservative activists for states to call a national convention to amend the U.S. Constitution has won the backing of several of the Republican presidential contenders, and one of the movement’s leaders said the process could get rolling next year if the candidates talk about it more.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich wants a convention for the express purpose of passing a balanced budget amendment. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says he is open to a convention but fears a “runaway” assembly where delegates try for a wholesale rewrite of the Constitution — sort of what happened in 1787.
Advocates for a convention say the candidates need to start talking up the idea on the campaign trail.
“If it starts to become a serious presidential issue, we could get it done in 2016,” said Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance, a leading group pushing the effort.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has endorsed the specific effort from Mr. Meckler’s group. A spokesman for the presidential campaign of Ben Carson said the retired neurosurgeon supports the effort as well.
Then there are those such as Mr. Rubio and Mr. Kasich who support the idea of a convention in principle.
Fed up with stagnation in Washington, where it has been more than four decades since the last successful amendment to the Constitution was proposed, conservative activists are turning to another part of Article V, which says states themselves can call a convention.
It takes two-thirds of states, 34 at the present time, to issue the call. But because a constitutional convention has never been called, there are a host of questions about how it is triggered and how it would work.
Some activists say more than 34 states have called for a convention of some sort and that Congress should have organized one already. Some of those states have rescinded their calls, though one school of thought says a petition cannot be rescinded. Also, the calls aren’t all the same.
Some states have called for a convention focusing solely on adding a balanced budget amendment, but others have said they want a broader convention.
Even if a convention is called for one purpose, there is a danger that it could expand its own mandate — something that strikes fear into conservatives’ hearts.
“Just make sure that we know how it is going to turn out because if you open up the Constitution, you are also opening it up to people that want to re-examine the First Amendment, people that want to re-examine the Second Amendment, people that want to re-examine some other fundamental protects that are built into the Constitution,” Mr. Rubio said in October while campaigning in New Hampshire.
Indeed, a runaway convention is the major fear of opponents of using the Article V process. They cite the precedent of the 1787 convention, which was called to amend and improve the Articles of Confederation but wound up scrapping them and sending the states a whole new constitution, the one in effect to this day.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has testified in his state Legislature in favor of a balanced budget amendment, and he says he thinks a convention could be limited by rules.
Some other heavy-hitters are also making a push.
Former Sen. Tom Coburn joined the effort this year after his retirement from Congress, saying Washington lacks the political will to fix the real problems facing the country and that the plan Mr. Meckler’s group introduced is a great way for the people to take back control.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, along with other conservative media personalities such as Mark Levin and Sean Hannity, also have endorsed the effort.
Mr. Meckler said the more people hear about the idea, the more they like it. It’s likely the last resort for voters who are frustrated with a lack of change in Washington, he said.
The group’s stated push to rein in the federal government and the high-profile support from big-name conservatives means Democrats and liberal activists have been quieter on the issue, though a Maryland group called Get Money Out is pushing for a convention to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision on campaign finance rules.
The three Democratic presidential candidates — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — also have called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.