The Kansas House fell short Thursday of the votes needed to put the state on record as wanting to amend the Constitution of the United States.
The 77-44 vote advanced the measure, but supporters will need a two-thirds majority – or 84 votes – to prevail in a final vote Monday.
Concurrent Resolution 5010 calls for a constitutional convention of the states. It says the convention should focus solely on amending the Constitution to place more limits on the power of the federal government and term limits on federal officials.
Although such resolutions usually need only a simple majority, House rules specifically require a two-thirds vote on requests for a constitutional convention.
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Article Five of the U.S. Constitution allows such a convention when two-thirds of the states file applications. The convention can propose amendments, which would then have to be approved by three-fourths of the states.
Because no constitutional convention has been called since the original one in 1787, it is unclear how such a process would be handled, who would serve as delegates and what, if any, limits could be placed on the convention’s actions.
Rep. Brett Hildebrand, R-Shawnee, carried the resolution on the House floor, calling the federal government “the authoritarian, micromanaging leviathan that our founding fathers gave us the constitutional means to combat.”
He said there are about 25,000 more words in federal regulations on the growing of cabbage than there are in the Declaration of Independence, 1,322 words, and the Gettysburg Address, 286 words. And he quoted French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville that “the governments that willfully ignore their constitutions are in a state of soft tyranny.”
That drew a scoffing response from Rep. Dennis Highberger, D-Lawrence.
Tyranny? Really? I think if you look up the word tyranny, you’re not going to find anything about cabbage regulation.
Rep. Dennis Highberger, D-Lawrence
“Tyranny? Really?” Highberger said. “I think if you look up the word tyranny, you’re not going to find anything about cabbage regulation.”
Rep. Annie Tietze, D-Topeka, also opposed the resolution, chiding the mostly Republican lawmakers for constantly citing the founding fathers’ intent and the language of the Constitution to justify their legislative actions, and then calling for a rewrite.
“This group (a constitutional convention) could potentially erase that and start over,” Tietz said.
If you trust the federal government and have confidence in the federal government, vote ‘no.’ However, if you support the concept of a representative government, you vote ‘yes.’ … I don’t trust the feds, I trust the folks.
Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita
Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, said it’s a question of trust.
“If you trust the federal government and have confidence in the federal government, vote ‘no,’ ” he said. “However, if you support the concept of a representative government, you vote ‘yes.’ … I don’t trust the feds, I trust the folks.”
Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, said a constitutional convention, in which each state would have one vote, would place too much power in the hands of 50 people. “I think there’s too much opportunity for mischief,” he said.
Rep. John Rubin disputed that that would be the way it would work.
“Each state will have one delegation,” he said. “That delegation will have one vote.”
Hildabrand said the delegates would be chosen by a future action of the state Legislature.
The resolution states several accusations against the federal government, including that it has “created a crushing national debt through improper and imprudent spending,” has “invaded the legitimate roles of the states through the manipulative process of federal mandates” and “has ceased to live under a proper interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.”
The resolution is kinder to state legislators, saying they were empowered by the founding fathers as “guardians of liberty against future abuses of power by the federal government.”
If the measure musters enough votes for final passage in the House, it would move to the Senate for consideration.
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
Article V, United States Constitution
How they voted
Here’s how south-central Kansas lawmakers voted on Concurrent Resolution 5010 calling for a constitutional convention. The measure advanced on a vote of 77-44 but will need 84 yes votes for final passage in the House.
Democrats voting yes: Henry Helgerson and Brandon Whipple, Wichita.
Democrats voting no: John Carmichael, Gail Finney, Roderick Houston, Tom Sawyer, Ponka-We Victors, Jim Ward, Wichita; Ed Trimmer, Winfield.
Republicans voting yes: Most area Republicans voted yes. Steven Becker of Buhler voted no. Mark Kahrs of Wichita and Joe Seiwert of Pretty Prairie were absent.