On the application of the...


February 22, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

"THE CONGRESS, . . . on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a convention for proposing amendments to this Constitution." -- Article V.

The Montana legislature is expected to vote this week on such an application for a Constitutional Convention.

Some Montana journalists say they think the legislators will kill the resolution. A number of individuals testified during hearings that the state shouldn't be a party to calling a convention. Though the resolution before the legislators says the constitutional convention could only consider a balanced budget amendment, some people are afraid of a "runaway convention."

For example, there are a lot of what we here in the urban, civilized East refer to as "gun nuts" in Montana. A spokesman for them testified against calling a convention on the grounds that the Second Amendment might be re-written by a runaway convention.

If Montana approves of the resolution, that would bring the number of such state applications to 33, one less than the 34 which is "two-thirds of the several States."

If Montana turns it down, that could be the final, fatal blow to this movement. Negative momentum. Earlier this month the sponsor of a resolution in Michigan backed down. And in New Jersey, where the lower house of the state legislature had passed such a resolution, the backers of it in the state senate decided they don't now have the votes and postponed action.

Clearly the effort needs a jump start. It needs what the political scene of the 1780s needed -- a clever advocate for a convention who could get it going against the odds. Another Alexander Hamilton. (No James Madison letters, please.)

Ross Perot could be today's Hamilton. At least, he more than any one else on the scene has the potential for getting a convention called. Last month he said of his United We Stand, America organization, "Here's where we can hit a home run. We're within three [sic] states of being able to call a constitutional convention to get a balanced budget amendment. Now, our volunteers in their sleep can get that done."

One of his volunteers testified (awake, I think) for the convention resolution in Montana. I think Alex -- I mean Ross -- should prove his clout by campaigning there himself, and in Michigan, New Jersey and other states where there is potential for getting such a resolution passed.

I personally favor a runaway convention. (My Second Amendment is great: "Effective police and military forces being necessary to the security of a free state, the right to keep and bear arms shall be limited to members of such forces." I could write a better Fifth Amendment than the one we've got in my sleep.)

The convention in Philadelphia in 1787 was a runaway. It was called "for the sole and express purpose" of revising the Articles of Confederation. It junked them and wrote a brand new Constitution.

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