By Paige Clark
The Indiana lawmaker pushing for a U.S. constitutional convention that would let states propose one or more amendments said he is hopeful it could happen as early as 2015.
Indiana President Pro Tem David Long
, R-Fort Wayne, said this week's preliminary assembly in Indianapolis "was a very successful first step in the effort to eventually put together a convention of the states to amend to U.S. constitution."
"We think we're off and running," Long said. "I'm personally excited and very gratified."
More than 50 state delegates from across the country met this week at the Indiana Statehouse under a process set out in Article V of the U.S. Constitution
, which allows states to propose amendments. No actual amendments were considered this week. Instead, lawmakers focused on the procedures needed to hold an amendment convention in the future.
"We are far short of where we should be," said Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Ohio. "The effort will continue through December."
Long said there will likely be a meeting then to finalize the rules and procedures of a possible constitutional convention. But the exact date and place have not been set - Georgia was mentioned as a possible meeting place.
One thing the assembly did accomplish was determining that states will each receive one vote - just as they did at original U.S. constitutional convention
"It was fascinating to watch each state vote like this for the first time in 200 years," Long said. "I think this week speaks volumes to the fact that this has real potential."
There was some debate on who can be a delegate - whether or not he or she had to be an elected official or not. And if the delegate is an elected official, did he or she have to be an official in office now. Also, legislators discussed eliminating any participation by federal employees, congress, and the entire executive branch.
Motions about specific regulations for appointing delegates failed and it was ultimately left up to states to determine how to choose their own delegates.
Other debates focused on an obvious lack of Democratic representation - although Republicans say that the assembly was not meant to be partisan. While about 30 states and 50 delegates were represented, the Democratic Party was not - only six delegates were Democrats and not one female in attendance was a Democrat.
"I want to single out our Democrat colleagues," said Rep. Chris Kapenga
, R-Wisconsin, who co-chaired the assembly with Long. He said the Democrats "get pressure because they're in the minority in this body, but we're going to change that."
Democratic Sen. Jason Holsman
of Wisconsin said the movement needs to recruit minority party members, especially women. He said that it is necessary to "change the complexity of the room."
"I hope some of the blue states will join this effort," Holsman said. "The representation here does not represent the public."
Republican Sen. Kelli Ward
of Arizona said the public needs to get involved to make a future constitutional convention possible.
"If we don't activate the people, they are not going to activate their members," she said.
Several legislators said they needed to keep the public aware. But this week, the public was not allowed to sit in on the deliberations in the Indiana House chamber.
Long said keeping the public out was in part a matter of security. Also, he said he expected more family members of delegates to come and watch this week's meetings and so he reserved the space for them.
Outside the chamber, though, opponents protested and complained they were not allowed into the meeting - even though that was true when the U.S. Constitution was drafted in 1787 at the Philadelphia Convention as well.
There are two ways to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds majority vote of the House and Senate or two-thirds of the states - which is 34 - can call a convention to propose amendments.
In both scenarios, three-fourths, or 38 states, must ratify the amendment for it to be added to the U.S. Constitution.
According to the Congressional Research Service
, all 27 current amendments have been passed through the congressional process.
That means the second process - the one more than 50 legislators discussed this week - has never been successful.
Long said, "It will be a difficult process. It was that way in 1787."
But Long and Kapenga both said it is necessary now that "Washington is broken."
"This is a load that can only be carried out by us as state legislators. It's a privilege, it's an honor, but it's heavy," Kapenga said. "We're gonna lock arms and we're going to push forward because the country we loves needs us, and it needs us now, we cannot wait."
Paige Clark is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.