States rights, a balanced federal budget and term limits for United States representatives and senators, as well as Supreme Court justices.
If you subscribe to those political objectives, two men in Pitkin County have a proposal for you: join the Convention of States Action.
“There’s no discipline in our front line of politicians, whether Democrat or Republican,” said Roger Nicholson of Old Snowmass, “and no restraint on our federal spending.”
Nicholson will join Aspen resident Maurice Emmer on Tuesday at the Capitol building in Denver, where they and other volunteer members of the Colorado Convention of States organization, which is part of a nationwide movement, will hold a rally and later meet with state lawmakers.
Nicholson introduced Emmer to the Convention of States about three years ago. Emmer, a retired attorney who once ran for mayor of Aspen, was so enamored of the organization that he became a co-director of its state branch.
The Colorado chapter currently has more than 33,000 members in its database, Emmer said. They get out the message of congressional term limits and fiscal restraint at county fairs and other events, as well as on social media and the internet.
They also get politicians’ ears through petitions and other methods, such as this week’s rally at the state Capitol.
“It’s about reducing the power of the federal government,” Emmer said.
Nicholson, a native of England, moved to the U.S. at the age of 11.
“I’ve done very well in the land of opportunity,” he said. “And when I was exposed to the Convention of States, it seemed a way to pay back this country that has been very wonderful to me.”
Nicholson and Emmer aren’t shy about their conservative beliefs, yet they say the organization is nonpartisan. About 30% of the group’s Colorado supporters are registered Democrats, “confirming that many Democrats are concerned about federal debt, term limits and the like,” Emmer wrote in a description of organization, also noting that the group won’t meet its goal without support on both sides of the political aisle.
Because it is a registered nonprofit, the group does not endorse or oppose political candidates, though it does let its supporters know which politicians either support or oppose the movement. The group counts Steve House, who is the former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, and former Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, among its supporters.
The Convention of States movement’s focal point is Article V of the Constitution, which says Congress must hold an amendments convention if two-thirds of the state legislations (34) pass a resolution instructing it to do so. It would take 38 states to ratify any amendments that are proposed at the convention.
Constitutional scholar Rob Natelson of the Denver-based Independence Institute will be the keynote speaker at the Capitol rally. His book “The Law of Article V” delves into its various interpretations over the centuries, as well as the general public’s misinterpretation of it.
Natelson notes that Article V allows Congress to propose amendments to the Constitution with voting approval from two-thirds of each house. The other way — which has yet to occur — is through the states, which would hold what Article V calls a “Convention for proposing Amendments.”
Congress has thus far proposed all amendments to the Constitution. The last one to be adopted — the 27th Amendment — was in 1992, only because it wasn’t ratified in 1791 when 10 of the first 12 proposals became the Bill of Rights. The 27th Amendment stated compensation to members of Congress could not change not until after the election of the House of Representatives.
Natelson’s book noted that George Mason, a Virginia delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, argued that Congress, if empowered to propose amendments requiring state ratification, “might become abusive or exceed it powers. It might refuse to adopt a necessary or desirable amendment, particularly one designed to curb its own authority. Accordingly, the Framers inserted the convention for proposing amendments as a way for the states to present corrective amendments for ratification without substantive congressional participation.”
It’s unlikely that federal officeholders would be keen on term limits, Emmer said.
“I don’t think that Congress will impose term limits on itself,” he said in reasoning why a Convention of States would be the more suitable venue for such a proposal.
Emmer said it is not farfetched to say that a Convention of States could be held in three to four years, though the group is not operating on any type of deadline to get it done. If anything, he said, it’s worth a shot to hear what the states would do, or even not do, at a convention.
Emmer and Nicholson said it would be vital for the convention to not drift from the intent of the group championing it — focus on setting term limits, rein in spending, and give states more power. Other political objectives — whether it’s reversing Roe v. Wade or the Second Amendment — would only muddy up the process and make it more partisan. That is not what they want.
Yet, fiscal measures, like requiring Congress to balance the U.S. budget, could get some traction, they said.
The United States had a total debt of approximately $23 trillion heading into 2020, and the last time it had a balanced budget was during Bill Clinton’s second term as president, from 1997 to 2001.
“As individuals, we can’t outspend our income,” Nicholson said, adding the government should try a similar practice.