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EDITORIAL

No pioneering spirit in the Indiana House

Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 12:01 am

Somebody else will have to go first in calling for convention.

Oh, too bad. This state had the chance to be a pioneer in a movement of epic proportions. But members of the Indiana House could not bring themselves to think big.

The House let the deadline go by last week before which it had to approve a resolution, introduced by Senate President Pro Tem David Long and approved 32-18 by the Senate, to call for a limited constitutional convention intended to return some of the power the federal government has stolen from the states. The convention would be charged with considering constitutional amendments to limit the power of Congress to regulate commerce and to levy taxes.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said “perhaps we’re not prepared” to be the first state to call for a convention and that his first choice would be “to elect folks that are ready to rein in the federal government.” Really? How’s that working out for us? Anybody noticed that “rein in the government” bandwagon rolling through Washington?

House minority leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, says Long’s resolution is “a silly idea from a very smart man. I don’t think anybody takes that seriously.” More thoughtful opponents have one serious concern that needs addressing: We might say the convention will be limited, but delegates don’t have to abide by that. Who knows what crazy and dangerous ideas they will come up with? Just look at the original convention delegates. They were only supposed to amend the Articles of Confederation, but they went rogue and wrote a new Constitution.

But that fear is based on a misreading of what actually happened in Philadelphia in 1787. With a few exceptions, the delegates were not going against what their states were directing them to do. Further, the call to amend the Articles of Confederation was a recommendation from the Continental Congress, not a legally binding edict. Under the laws of the time, only the states could call for a convention, so in a sense the whole enterprise was off the books.

And let’s not forget what happened after the convention. The Constitution had to be ratified by nine of the 13 states, and that brought forth a long and detailed debate of the new government in city after city, by politicians and by ordinary citizens in meetings and through the newspapers. It was the most profound display of the public’s will in this nation’s history.

A convention today would have to be called for by two-thirds of the states. Anything it came up with would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. If we fear the process, in a sense we fear ourselves. Maybe we should, but at least let’s admit it.