Former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn highlighted a renewed effort Wednesday to convince members of the Kansas Legislature to approve a resolution calling for a convention of states to consider amending the U.S. Constitution.
Coburn, adored by Republicans as a Godfather of modern conservativism and loathed by Democrats as "Dr. No," said politicians in Washington, D.C., had taken control of the public policy landscape by trampling on state rights. Previous attempts to advance the idea of a 50-state convention have fallen short in Kansas.
"We're about restoring the Constitution — not changing it," said the retired Oklahoma senator. "Opposition to this is fear — not courage. Unless you have your head in the sand, you know we're in trouble."
Coburn, who was elected to the U.S. House in 1994 and departed the U.S. Senate in 2015, said he would welcome constitutional amendments at a convention on federal term limits, restraint of executive power and forcing a new era of fiscal responsibility.
He was applauded by a majority of about 100 people attending the House Federal and State Affairs Committee's hearing on House Current Resolution 5009. The committee took no action on the resolution.
The U.S. Constitution makes provision for an assembly of states to consider amendments. Two-thirds majorities of the Kansas House and Senate would be necessary for the state to be part of initiating the process. At a national convention, each state would have one vote. Three-fourths of states would need to subsequently ratify an amendment before insertion into the federal constitution.
Michael Leachman, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, said the risk of a constitutional convention outweighed any potential benefit. It can infect the Constitution with "radical and harmful changes," he said.
"Taking this unprecedented step would put the nation's Constitution up for grabs, putting at risk the cherished rights and freedoms the constitution enshrines and widening the already great political divisions we see in this country today," he said.
Wichita resident John Axtell, volunteer coordinator with Kansas Campaign for Liberty, said he had profound problems with actions of the full-time professional political establishment in Washington.
He said wording of the U.S. Constitution wasn't in need of clarification. Issues raised by convention advocates reflect the reality of citizens having surrendered their voice to self-serving politicians, he said.
"Stronger, clearer, more abundant or just different words will not have any impact on this problem. Not one iota," Axtell said. "We need leaders. People who will be honest about what it takes to rein in out-of-control government and secure freedom and prosperity."
Mark Desetti, who represents the Kansas-National Education Association, said he could think of no more dangerous idea than to throw the U.S. Constitution open to unlimited overhaul.
"A constitutional convention would devolve into a battle of left versus right. It would throw our country into great turmoil, a period of extraordinary tension and deep anxiety, and likely find itself quickly mired in momentous, lengthy legal and political battles," he said.