Will Maryland join a Convention of States or an Article V Convention?

By Cathy Keim

The push for an Article V Convention is growing nationwide, and it is coming from both sides of the political spectrum. The citizens are aware that they are not being heard and they are looking for ways to correct this.

An Article V Convention or Convention of the States is one of two ways to amend the Constitution of the United States. In case you’ve forgotten, here is Article V:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, (emphasis added) or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate

All previous amendments have been through Congress. However, the Convention of States method has been utilized to put pressure on Congress to act. For example, the states wanted to have direct election of their senators but Congress would not oblige – so the states began the process of calling for a convention of states. Once they got within one state of achieving the two thirds needed, Congress acted rather than losing its prerogative. (This led to the Seventeenth Amendment.)

Maryland has legislation under consideration now which states:

Applying to the U.S. Congress for an amendments convention called under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that affirms every citizen’s freedom to vote and restores free and fair elections in America.

This bill is filed as HJ2 by Delegate Sheila Hixson and is cross-filed with SJ2 by Senator Paul Pinsky. It was introduced last session also, but did not come to the floor for a vote. (Editor’s note: The Senate version from 2014, however, passed committee 9-2 with all three Republicans on the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee voting yes.)

Reading the bill summary left me perplexed. Who thinks we need an amendment to restore free and fair elections? My mind thought of voter fraud, but who would want to amend the Constitution to fix that issue? After some phone calls to Delegate Hixson and Senator Pinsky’s offices, though, the confusion was cleared up.

This bill is the result of the work of Get Money Out of Maryland (GMOM) and its allies. They claim to be bipartisan, but the groups in the allies list lean distinctly progressive.

The bills have a total of sixty-nine sponsors of which two are Republicans, so I suppose that makes it bipartisan.

GMOM states:

The Citizens United v FEC decision by the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for unlimited campaign expenditures in elections, which corporations and the extremely wealthy have used with devastating impact in the last few elections. This misguided decision reversed decades of campaign finance regulation at the state and federal level, turning our public elections into private auctions. With regard to voting rights, Supreme Court justices in the Bush v Gore decision declared that there is no individual right to vote in the Constitution and in its aftermath, there has been a concerted attack upon the right to vote across the country. These legal travesties require remedy if we are going to preserve representative democracy and create a more perfect union. (Emphasis in original.)

According to Senator Pinsky’s spokesman, the principal point of this amendment is that there is too much money in politics since the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case opened the floodgates. GMOM wants the Citizens United ruling reversed so the only option is to exert pressure on Congress via an Article V Convention to amend the Constitution. Their expectation is that Congress will act if the states approach the two-thirds approval level as happened with the direct election of senators.

GMOM states that Vermont, California, Illinois, and New Jersey have already passed the “Democracy” amendment and several other states, such as Maryland, are considering the bill now.

Working from the opposite side of the political spectrum is the group Citizens for Self-Governance which states:

Citizens concerned for the future of their country, under a federal government that’s increasingly bloated, corrupt, reckless and invasive, have a constitutional option. We can call a Convention of States to return the country to its original vision of a limited federal government that is of, by and for the people.

They also add:

Rather than calling a convention for a specific amendment, Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG) has launched the Convention of the States Project to urge state legislatures to properly use Article V to call a convention for a particular subject—reducing the power of Washington, D.C. It is important to note that a convention for an individual amendment (e.g. a Balanced Budget Amendment) would be limited to that single idea. Requiring a balanced budget is a great idea that CSG fully supports. Congress, however, could comply with a Balanced Budget Amendment by simply raising taxes. We need spending restraints as well. We need restraints on taxation. We need prohibitions against improper federal regulation. We need to stop unfunded mandates.

Both sides of the debate assure their followers that the Article V Convention cannot spiral out of control and rewrite the entire Constitution once they convene. Their main defense against this is that any amendment that comes out of the convention still has to be approved by three quarters of the states, thus giving ample room for rogue amendments to be stopped.

You may want to keep an eye on how Maryland’s effort plays out this legislative session – although from the progressive side, it still illustrates the discontent that is growing as citizens realize that their overlords in DC are not listening to them. It is striking (and terrifying) that the progressives feel that President Obama is not doing enough to reach their goals, while the conservatives feel attacked and denigrated by their weak and ineffective leadership under Speaker Boehner and Senate Leader McConnell.

Perhaps the only people happy with the current system are the politicians that are in power and the wealthy elites and crony capitalists that consort with and fund their campaigns. Outside that narrow group, there is a battle brewing.

Two candidates speak out on Common Core

After the arrest of and subsequent publicity over Robert Small’s unauthorized questioning of Common Core at a Baltimore forum, the incident has attracted statements from two GOP gubernatorial contenders.

David Craig mentioned the arrest in a preamble to his statement, but refrained from directly referencing the incident in his official remarks:

The value in public meetings – whether it is about Common Core or any other policy issue affecting a community – is giving people the opportunity to speak. It is a long tradition that goes back to the founding principles of our country and occurs in county and municipal forums to this day. When speech is limited or meetings are overly scripted, it tends to cause angst among all who are involved.

The Common Core national education standard is controversial and for good reason. It slipped under the radar in Maryland three years ago and there are serious concerns about it, many of which are being raised for the first time. School administrators should be holding public forums like the one in Baltimore County, but these officials will actually learn more by encouraging a robust debate and the exchange of ideas. Their ultimate constituents are students and their parents and those voices must be heard.

Angst? I would have to say Mr. Small was a) pretty upset and b) had a good point, not to mention pretty solid grounds for legal action of his own. It was noted at our meeting last night (which, by the way, no one was ejected from) that it was fortunate someone was taping the meeting or we may have never known fully about the incident because it would have been excused by the mainstream media as never happening.

On the other hand, Delegate Ron George is going to try more definitive action as only he (among the contenders) can do:

I have opposed Common Core from its onset. Parents have the right to have their voices heard in all matters concerning the education of their children. This is a vast overreach by the federal government that should not even be considered until it has been thoroughly vetted by parents.

It is very clear to me that Common Core is nothing but an attempt by the federal government to take control over our children’s education and to force parents to sit on the sideline. It is outrageous and I intend to fight it with all of my energy.

It’s very clear to me, though, that whatever bill George introduces, it will be locked in the committee chairman’s drawer. He’ll be lucky to get a hearing after all the controversy, which Democrats aren’t going to want going into 2014. (Of course, once the bill is introduced we can freely call the committee chair and demand action. Most likely a bill such as this would land in George’s Ways and Means Committee and its Chair Delegate Sheila Hixson, but they may switch it over because George is a sponsor and it would be a hot potato.)

But then the question comes from the vetting process. Unfortunately, out of a public school classroom of 15 to 20 kids, you might – maybe – have one set of parents who follows Common Core and cares enough to ask questions, Hopefully this arrest will startle a few more, but it’s worth mentioning that only one other observer complained at that poorly-run meeting. Many of those who protest Common Core don’t have kids in the public schools, so they don’t have a say at the PTA meetings and other events where those parents might attend.

So the question to ask is really: what was wrong with the curriculum we had? One thing which bothers people about Common Core is that it prepares children for community college as opposed to a college-prep lesson plan. Parents – at least the ones who care and don’t use their kids as a means to milk more freebies out of the government while they watch Dr. Phil – would just like to have their kids taught the basics, like reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Pink Floyd once sang “we don’t need no education.” But what they truly meant was “we don’t need no thought control.” Double negatives aside, let’s teach kids critical thinking and not how to pass a standardized test.

McDermott urges elected school board action

As do I…

On March 15th, 2012, the House Ways and Means Committee heard HB 966 – Wicomico County – Board of Education – Selection of Members – Straw Ballot. This bill, sponsored by Delegate Michael A. McDermott (Worcester and Wicomico Counties), would simply allow the people of Wicomico County to voice their opinions about the selection method of the members on the Wicomico County Board of Education. It proposes a non-binding referendum that would ask whether voters favor changing the selection method of school board members from being appointed by the Governor to a direct election by county voters.

What has happened since the hearing on March 15th? Absolutely nothing. In response to this, Delegate McDermott is asking the citizens of Wicomico County to urge the Ways and Means Committee Members to vote on this bill. In particular, please contact the Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman:

Delegate Sheila E. Hixson

Phone Number: 410-841-3469 or 301-858-3469 or 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3469

Address: Room 131, House Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401-1912

E-mail: sheila.hixson.annapolis@house.state.md.us

Fax: (410) 841-3777, (301) 858-3777

Delegate McDermott is also asking the citizens of Wicomico County to contact the members of the Wicomico County Delegation who did not support this bill:

Delegate Norman Conway

Phone Number: 410-841-3407 or 301-858-3407 or 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3407

Address: Room 121, House Office Building, 6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

E-mail: norman.conway@house.state.md.us

Fax: (410) 841-3416, (301) 858-3416

Delegate Rudolph Cane

Phone Number: 410- 841-3427 or 301-858-3427 or 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3427

Address: Room 364, House Office Building, 6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

E-mail: rudolph.cane@house.state.md.us

Fax: (410) 841-3780 or (301) 858-3780

If the people of Wicomico County want the right to simply ask a question at the ballot box, they must act now!

Unfortunately, this hasn’t been a very successful year for those in the four counties who are still saddled with appointed school boards to make headway on the problem. While some of these bills are looking for more than a straw ballot, neither the one bill regarding the Baltimore City Schools nor a plethora of seven bills which would affect the composition of the Anne Arundel County board have gained anymore traction than the Wicomico County effort. In fact, two of the Senate bills for Anne Arundel County were killed in committee. Moreover, it’s also worth pointing out that the latest successes have been only to secure a partially-appointed, partially-elected “hybrid” board, which means the state still has their fingers in the local pie in those counties.

But there is one bill which has cleared the House, a bill which would change Baltimore County’s school board from a 12-person board appointed by the Governor to a 10-person board elected by district. So it can be done.

There are key differences between the Baltimore County effort and ours, though. One key distinction is that the sponsorship is bipartisan, under the Baltimore County delegation. This is why the lack of local Democratic support this year is hurting us – bear in mind all of our delegation was on board last year, but Rudy Cane and Norm Conway instead decided to listen to a tiny minority who was worried their outsized power would be eroded. (Interestingly, Cane was for the Baltimore County bill while Conway did not vote in a 124-8 tally.)

In essence, there are three (perhaps four) people holding up the opportunity to allow our voices to be heard. One is County Executive Rick Pollitt, who insists on ridiculous demands that we pony up thousands of signatures to express our support when it could be done much more easily through a straw ballot.

The second pair are Delegates Cane and Conway, who refused to get behind this bill and perhaps are convincing the fourth (Delegate Sheila Hixson) to not pull it out of her desk drawer so her committee can vote on it. Most likely it would pass the committee (and for that matter, the General Assembly) without a problem.

We have talked about this issue for at least a decade, and it’s time to get it resolved. And it may be worthwhile to impress on our local recalcitrant delegation that this could appear now, when they are not on the ballot, or it can appear on the ballot on 2014 when they’re presumably running for re-election. It’s their call, because we won’t forget who is holding up this process.