Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor of Florida, has enthusiastically embraced a right-wing effort to radically re-write the U.S. Constitution and restrict the authority of the federal government to address issues like poverty and health care and corporate regulation.
The Convention of States project is a scheme being aggressively pursued by Tea Party activists, corporate members of the Koch brothers’ political networks, and Religious Right leaders to invoke a never-before deployed mechanism for amending the U.S. Constitution.
The goal of Convention of States leaders is to get 34 state legislatures to formally petition Congress to call an Article V convention for the purpose of considering constitutional amendments that would dramatically limit the scope and authority of the federal government.
Their ambition is to strip constitutional authority from Great Society and New Deal programs like Social Security and Medicare, and that’s not all. They envision reversing Progressive-era reforms that date to the turn of the 20th Century, including the 16th Amendment, which allowed the federal government to collect income taxes, and the 17th Amendment, which made U.S. senators elected by popular vote rather than selected by state legislatures.
That’s not an overstatement. Take it from Mark Meckler, head of Citizens for Self-Governance, which is leading the push to hold a Convention of States. Meckler recently told right-wing pundit Mark Levin that his movement’s goal is to “reverse 115 years of progressivism.”
He’s getting help in that effort from groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which acts as a sort of matchmaker for corporate lobbyists and conservative lawmakers eager to do their bidding. And they’re getting help from politicians like Ron DeSantis.
“I’ve spent years fighting the DC Swamp, and as a candidate for Governor of Florida, I know the states need to use Article V to take the power away from D.C.,” he said back in February when Convention of States announced his endorsement.
There’s no question that DeSantis knew exactly what he was endorsing. Consider this exchange between DeSantis and Fox News host Steve Hilton, which was posted on the Convention of States Facebook page:
Go back to Constitution. Everything that can be done by the states and local government should be taken away from the federal government–education, health care, social services, transportation, welfare, and more–all of it should be decentralized. We’ve had enough of the incompetence and corruption in Washington. Time after time, politicians come in and say they’re going to change it, and they never ever do. So we the people have to take our power back through efforts like the Convention of States project.That is the next revolution we need.
Steve, I want to take that speech and bottle it up and take it around Florida and the country. I agreed with every word you said; I thought it was very on point. And you’re right. The short-term stuff here, it’ll work out, there’s a lot of posturing, but the reason why we end up in these positions all the time is because the system has broken down, the budget system has broken down. I agree with you by using Article V of the Constitution we can pursue reforms such as a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution so that they’re not just playing with house money and they actually have to make tough decisions and balance the books every year.
The thing though that I’m encouraged about, though, Steve, is that if you go in the country, if you go in the individual states, I actually think there is a widespread belief in the reforms you discuss, and I discuss, and one way to do it would be doing it through those state legislatures, because the disfunction in Washington is not good for our individual state governments, either.
In 2017, more than 200 organizations, including constitutional rights and other public interest groups signed a letter opposing an Article V convention and warning of the dangers of such a gathering. As one Common Cause state leader said, it could amount to re-writing the Constitution in the age of Twitter and Citizens United, with issues affecting the lives of millions of Americans and the future of democracy being hashed out “in a back room with no referee, no clear rules, no guarantee of transparency.”