The Texas House on Thursday joined the Senate in voting to call for an Article V Convention of States, making Texas the 11th of the 34 states needed to call a constitutional convention to rein in the power of the federal government.
In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Greg Abbott made the call for a Convention of States one of four emergency items. On its passage, the governor tweeted, “BOOM. Texas has now passed a Convention of States Resolution. Thank you Texas House for today’s vote.”
Senate Joint Resolution 2, which passed on a 94-51 vote, doesn’t require the governor’s signature.
Under SJR 2, the convention Texas is seeking would be limited to considering amendments expressly “for the limited purpose of proposing one or more amendments to the Constitution 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.”
That conforms with what the 10 other states have delineated in their calls for a convention, according to Tamara Colbert, spokeswoman for the Texas campaign.
Abbott’s interest in a Convention of States blossomed during the Obama administration, which as state attorney general he sued repeatedly on behalf of Texas for what he believed to be actions that exceeded presidential authority and encroached on state prerogatives.
But, in his State of the State address, Abbott said, “This isn’t a problem caused by one president. And it won’t be solved by one president. It must be fixed by the people themselves.”
“We should demand that the federal government do two things,” Abbott said. “One: Fulfill important, but limited responsibilities as written in the Constitution. And two: On everything else, leave us alone, and let Texans govern Texas.”
Under Article V of the Constitution, the legislatures of two-thirds of the states can call for a convention to draft amendments to the Constitution. Amendments approved by the convention would need ratification by three-quarters of the states to become part of the Constitution.
Thursday’s action was a personal victory for Abbott, who devoted much of his 2016 book, “Broken But Unbowed,” to arguing for a Convention of States.
In a Legislature consumed with more immediate issues, and amid concerns among Republicans and Democrats about the potential for a “runaway convention,” it was Abbott’s advocacy that propelled the issue forward.
As a member of the House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility, Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, who opposed the convention in the past, could have, in league with Democrats on the committee, scuttled the resolution.
Asked why he joined the majority in approving the resolution Thursday, he replied, “Just did.”
Likewise, Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, who had been the convention resolution’s Senate nemesis in the past, went along with the governor this time.
The House debate wasn’t nearly as long or spirited as the Senate debate.
Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, asked her Republican colleagues to contemplate what else might come of opening the Constitution to amendment. She said she might like an amendment securing the rights of LGBT Americans.
Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, asked Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, who carried the bill in the House, “Why now do we need to convene a national convention, when we’ve never done it before in our nation’s history?”
“We believe the federal government is out of control,” Miller said.
Turner wondered how far in the future Miller envisions this convention happening, considering Texas is only the 11th state to join the call.
Miller said that Texas’ action would lead other states to follow.
“We’ll lead the way by being No. 11,” Turner said.
Turner also sought to add some mischief to the debate by offering an amendment that would expand the agenda for the convention to include an amendment that would “remove from office those officials and members found to have colluded with foreign governments.”
That followed a recitation by Turner of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign to help elect President Donald Trump.
Turner’s amendment was tabled on a 94-53 vote.
The House also approved SJR 38, wiping the legislative slate clean of all previous calls by Texas for constitutional conventions dating back to 1899, with the exception of one calling for a convention to enact a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.