Unprecedented. It’s a word being used often to describe current events in our national politics.
We’ve seen Republicans block a hearing and vote on a Democratic President’s nominee to the United States Supreme Court. There are open federal inquiries into the possible influence of Russia in our elections and collusion with representatives of Donald Trump’s campaign. There is a daily stream of news of chaos in the Trump administration and questions about their respect for democracy and individual rights and a world that is as dangerous as ever.
In Wisconsin, a group of state legislative Republicans think that now, 230 years after our first and only constitutional convention, is a good time to rewrite the Constitution of the United States.
What could go wrong?
Plenty, as it turns out. That is why the rush to put Wisconsin among the states adopting resolutions calling for an “Article V” convention to amend our nation’s governing document is the wrong plan at the wrong time.
Supporters of a constitutional convention argue there is nothing to fear. They claim that delegates will only be able to debate a single issue, a balanced budget amendment, as provided for in the Wisconsin resolution and resolutions adopted by a sufficient number of states to trigger the convention.
It’s simply not true that a convention could be guaranteed to be limited to a single, narrowly drawn topic. A joint resolution of the Wisconsin state legislature does not override the U.S. Constitution. And that Constitution does not limit in any way issues that can be considered once an Article V Constitutional convention has been convened.
Take for example, what happened the last time representatives of the states gathered to discuss the governing documents of our republic in 1787 – the Articles of Confederation were scrapped and the document that we have known for 230 years as the U.S. Constitution was drafted.
And it is a misnomer that the proposed federal budget amendment is a benign fiscal matter. In fact, it is job killing, dangerously short-sighted and simplistic slogan-based policy. The amendment could prevent our federal government from having the ability to use emergency financing to protect the homeland or prevent economic collapse, as happened in crises like World War II and the Great Recession of 2008.
Who knows what would be concocted in back rooms by unelected delegates in this political environment, with big money special interests seeking influence over every aspect of the political process, ideological extremism run amok and unprecedented political division.
Once a constitutional convention is convened, all of the protections of our rights we enjoy as citizens and all of the responsibilities we apportion to the federal and state government are on the table.
Perhaps this explains why all 27 amendments to our constitution that have been adopted have been proposed and passed by the Congress and ratified by the states. And perhaps this is why, bridging the partisan and ideological divide, voices on the right and the left have spoken out against convening a convention.
What we can’t afford is the crisis inevitably resulting from convening a rewrite of our nation’s governing document in this time of (unprecedented) uncertainty. And what we don’t need is our state legislature rushing legislation to put this process in motion.
Now more than ever we need the Constitution we already have to protect our rights and to protect our democracy.
Lastly, I am also alarmed at what has not been raised in this debate: The threat to tens of thousands of jobs in Wisconsin and the threat to our nation’s Homeland Security.
Defense contracting employs 24,000 in Wisconsin alone — just for 200 Wisconsin companies which support aerospace. Add to that places like Oshkosh Corporation, which just received $700 million in new military business, or Marinette Marine.
A balanced budget amendment could result in billions of dollars lost for Wisconsin businesses and the loss of tens of thousands of hardworking Wisconsin jobs. Rewriting the U.S. Constitution is a terrible idea because of the threat American Democracy, the threat to our country’s Homeland Security and as it turns out the jobs of tens of thousands of hardworking Wisconsin men and women.