The U.S. Constitution provides that a constitutional convention must be called if two-thirds of the states demand it. Nearly 28 out of the 34 states required have already done so. And the debates have begun as to what this convention ought to accomplish. Here’s a view from the left…

[Excerpts of an article published recently in Mother Jones magazine]

What If We Held a Constitutional Convention and the Right-Wingers Prevailed?

That’s the fear driving this group of progressive convention-boosters.

By Rowan Walrath

Nature’s rights, universal basic income, keeping money out of politics: These are some of the principles guiding a coalition of left-wing Californians who want to serve as the “progressive voice” at a convention—which they believe is inevitable—to amend the United States Constitution.

Clare Hedin, co-founder of the group California Constitutional Convention (a.k.a. Cal Con Con), is confident of a convention in the not-too-distant future. A state ballot initiative outlining talking points for a convention, she and her colleagues are convinced, is the most effective way to push their left-wing agenda, which includes:

  • Congressional term limits
  • Abolishing the Electoral College
  • Lowering the voting age to 16
  • Making state taxes primary, with federal taxes secondary and negotiable
  • Ensuring that every taxpayer has a voting member of Congress and gets to vote in presidential elections (welcome news, no doubt, for citizens of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC)

To be clear, the state of California has already called for a constitutional convention, back in 2014. Cal Con Con’s goal is to get progressive priorities on the agenda, compelling California delegates at this future convention to take heed of state voters. “It’s going to come down to the legislature hearing the collective call of Californians to protect our values at the highest level,” Hedin says.

Among the proposals: universal health care, gun safety, waste-free industries, and a ban on patenting living organisms.

As it stands, the initiative, “Cal Con Con 2.0,” is a left-wing fantasy, with guarantees of universal health care, freedom to marry whomever, and the right to be safe from being harmed by people with guns. Corporate free speech and corporate “personhood” would be toast. Industry would be required to adopt “waste free” and “non-polluting” “‘Cradle to Cradle’ design principles.” And patenting living organisms would be outlawed. …

Back in 2014, when California called for a constitutional convention, it became the second state after Vermont to demand that its convention delegates propose an amendment to limit corporate campaign financing—a direct response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, according to SFGate.

But beyond those two states, the convention movement has largely been led by conservative interests. The American Legislative Exchange Council is behind several state resolutions calling for a federal balanced budget amendment. Earlier this year, Missouri and Alabama called for conventions to set term limits in both chambers of Congress.

Our philosophy was: Teenagers are going to cut loose and throw a house party. We’ll be the responsible adults.

Convention skeptics like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argue that a modern constitutional convention could prove dangerous for citizens’ rights. It “likely would be extremely contentious and highly politicized, and its results impossible to predict,” the think tank warns, and a con con might “set its own agenda,” with no authority governing the delegates. It’s hard to know, given that there hasn’t been a federal constitutional convention since, well, the first one in 1787, which began as a gathering to amend the Articles of Confederation.

Cal Con Con is aware of these arguments, but its leaders figure a convention will probably happen regardless, so progressives had better take it seriously. “The time to stop it was five, 10 years ago,” says Cal Con Con’s Marcus Ruiz Evans, another member of the core leadership team. “The interior 40 states, or the majority controlling the federal government, they’re going to get the votes to make this happen. Our philosophy was: Teenagers are going to cut loose and throw a house party. We’ll be the responsible adults.”

If there were a constitutional convention and there were no progressive voices…I think it could be the end of civilization.

Hedin and Evans understand their idea is controversial and not everyone will necessarily be on board. But they also believe that when a convention happens, they need to be in a position to secure progressive language in the new document—or else.

“Sort of ‘reasonable-radical’ is how we think of what we’re doing,” Hedin says. “We’re either going to have another civil war—if there were a constitutional convention and there were no progressive voices there and it went the way the Koch brothers want it to, I think that’s the end of freedom. I really do. And because of their thoughts on environmental impact, I think it could be the end of civilization. I really mean that.”


This article was first published on Mother Jones on 28 May 2018.