The following article was written by Peggy Fikac and published on the San Antonio Express-News.
When Gov. Greg Abbott proposed amending the U.S. Constitution to rein in the federal government, you might have expected the Republican to get slammed by the left. And he did.
But there also are loud voices on the right voicing concerns about Abbott joining the move for a convention of states to make constitutional changes, calling it a dangerous maneuver that could be hijacked by liberals.
“Strike Two For Gov. Abbott,” was the recent headline in a conservative blog, which also took issue with his pre-kindergarten initiative.
“We all know our country is in a big mess with an out-of-control government, and we would like to do something about it, but let’s not put our original Constitution at risk with an amending Convention of the States,” wrote Shirley Spellerberg, a former Corinth mayor, past member of the Republican Party of Texas Platform Committee and an Eagle Forum member.
Answering such concern was a driving force behind Abbott’s “Broken But Unbowed,” the new book that he has been promoting on national television and with a bus tour. “That’s one of the goals of the book - to beat back the fears that are out there about the convention of states,” said Abbott communications director Matt Hirsch.
Among points in the book, Abbott says that a runaway convention “simply would not happen” because at least 34 states would have to agree to hold a convention, and any proposal must be agreed upon by 38 states before it can be ratified. Just seven states have approved identical resolutions calling for a convention so far.
“If we want to fix the problems we face today, we need to repair the fractured foundation of our government,” writes Abbott of the longshot convention proposal, a challenge he likens to the ones he overcame to become governor despite the accident that broke his back and put him in a wheelchair when he was a young man.
It’s open to question how much his book will sway people, but count on Abbott not to back down on the issue he has pushed for months. It’s “absolutely” part of his agenda for the next legislative session, Hirsch said, along with priority issues like child protective services, border security, education and ethics.
The idea isn’t new to the Legislature. A resolution was approved by the Texas House last year asking Congress to call a convention, but it died in the Senate. The House will consider the idea again, Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said when Abbott unveiled his push in January. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has had no comment.
The idea has some strong GOP support. It’s in the Republican Party of Texas platform, which is careful to oppose a broad convention to rewrite the U.S. Constitution while supporting a limited convention of states to reduce the power of the federal government. It’s backed by prominent members of the GOP, including state party Chairman Tom Mechler. The Texas Association of Business supports a convention of the states on one issue, balancing the budget.
But there’s also risk to supporting the idea, given the division in the GOP and the way it’s painted by the opposition.
“Americans from all sides of the political spectrum know there are real challenges that need real solutions, today. Instead of fantasies about bringing back the Articles of Confederation,” said Texas Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Manny Garcia by email. “Gov. Abbott ought to get off the tour bus and back to work. Texans are stuck in endless traffic, our infrastructure is crumbling, and Republicans are shortchanging our children’s education,”
I’ve heard similar comments from less partisan people who find a convention of states is an odd distraction but don’t want to publicly oppose Abbott.
But Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance and co-founder of the Convention of States Project, said pushback from conservatives is “relatively minimal and decreasing.” Abbott’s articulate support, coming from his experience as not only governor but as a former state attorney general and Texas Supreme Court justice, “helps to raise the profile of the issue nationally,” Meckler said.
“It's a big country with huge, noisy media,” he said by email. “The Governor's voice on the issue helps the movement to rise out of the noise and into the headlines.”
For people like the Eagle Forum’s Cathie Adams, however the convention idea remains a point of disagreement.
“I don’t expect him to back off. I think he is a very good man. I think that he has every good intention. It is a disagreement that not going to change on our end, because the concerns have been there and have not been allayed,” she said. “There is nothing that has caused us to say, ‘That’s the safeguard we were looking for.”
But there’s one thing she hasn’t yet gotten around to, she said. “I’ve not read his book.”
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