Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency item, calling for a national Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution, cleared its first hurdle Thursday, with the Senate State Affairs Committee sending the resolution to the floor on a 6-2 party-line vote.
“We are on the precipice of history we have not seen before,” said Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, the lead Senate sponsor, arguing that the convention was needed because the “federal government has been usurping state power,” leaving the states little more than “subcontractors.” A new Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution under a process envisaged by Article V of the Constitution is critical to restore the states to their rightful place in the federal system, Birdwell said.
In order to avoid a runaway convention, Birdwell said that under Senate Joint Resolution 2, the only amendments that could be considered would be ones “to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and to limit the terms of office of federal officials and members of Congress.”
Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said it was imperative that the call for the convention be drawn as narrowly as possible, but “that shouldn’t stop us from moving forward carefully.”
One Republican, Sen. Jane Nelson, of Flower Mound, said that while she wanted the full Senate to consider the legislation, “I still have concerns.”
“Both sides include patriots who love our country,” Nelson said. “We need to be very, very cautious and move slowly.”
The House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility, which will consider the legislation and includes Republicans who have previously opposed the Convention of States, may do just that.
Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, who testified against SJR 2, described a Convention of States as “one of the most dangerous ideas in American politics today,” without precedent, certain rules or predictable outcomes.
The legislatures in 34 states would have to call for a convention for it to occur.
Birdwell said that as of now, eight states have called for the convention, and in 16 other states, one legislative house has called for it. Most states are considering resolutions.
State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, the most adamant foe of the call for a convention in the last session, was ill and not present for Thursday’s vote, but sent no signal that he intends to block one of the four emergency items Abbott announced in his State of the State Address. A former attorney general and state Supreme Court justice, Abbott devoted much of his 2016 book, “Broken but Unbowed,” to making the case for calling the convention to cut the federal government down to size.
The committee also voted 8-0 to send to the floor SJR 38, authored by Estes, rescinding all previous applications for an Article V convention made by the Texas Legislature to the U.S. Congress over more than a century.
Tamara Colbert, spokesman for the formal organization calling for the Convention of States, told the lawmakers they were submitting into the record petitions with 24,000 signatures calling for the convention, which has mostly generated enthusiasm on the right, though that is by no means a unanimous view.
“I beg this committee and this Legislature not to open this Pandora’s box on this nation, just for the dream of some minor tweaking our Constitution may need,” said Michael Openshaw of Plano, the founder of the North Texas Tea Party, who warned that a convention could be taken over by well-heeled, well-organized liberals, and conservatives might “end up with the destruction of the rights we currently do have.”