From the December 2008 Idaho Observer:

The Ohio con con controversy

By Don Harkins

The Ohio state legislature quietly processed House Joint Resolution 8 which, if approved, would result in the state submitting an application to the U.S. Congress in favor of scheduling a constitutional convention (con con) to amend the U.S. Constitution per Article V. HJR 8 called for amending the Constitution to reflect that the president must present a balanced budget for Congress to pass each year.

When Ohio patriots found out that the state House intended to vote in favor of applying for a con con, they flooded into the capitol and stated their well-informed reasons for being opposed to HJR 8. A vote on HJR 8, which was scheduled to take place Dec. 10, 2008, has been postponed thanks to the vigilance of Ohio patriots.

But it’s already the law. The Ohio legislature is arguably misguided in its attempts to compel the president to balance the budget each year by taking risks associated with amending the Constitution during a con con. Besides being a mathematical impossibility, particularly now that Congress passed the bailout bill, its already against the law for the president to operate at a deficit.

On Oct. 10, 1978, Congress passed Public Law 95-435 which states, "Beginning with fiscal year 1981, the total budget outlays of the federal government shall not exceed its receipts."

So, it is already the "law" that the federal government must present to Congress a balanced budget. There is no reason to trigger a constitutional convention which, we are told, comes with it certain risks—like opening the entire document up for revision.

The truth is we don’t know what will happen since the only federal "con con" was held in 1787 and resulted in the ratification of the present Constitution. The Bill of Rights (1791) and every constitutional amendment since has (allegedly) been ratified by 2/3 of both houses of the federal Congress and ratified by 3/4 of the state legislatures without a convention per Article V.

The states can also amend the Constitution. The intent of the Founders, also under Article V, was to provide the states with a mechanism to amend the Constitution even if the Congress was unwilling. But the language, which was simple and straightforward at the time, is now considered "vague" and is subject to interpretation.

The Founders provided for instances where a subject of importance to the states would come up and the central government would oppose. So, if 2/3 of the states were to formally express their desire to amend the Constitution, a convention would be scheduled to accommodate them. But, Article V specifies no time bars or conditions and appears to assume that the states would "apply" for a constitutional convention in a timely manner in response to a specific issue.

Since the Constitution was ratified, over 500 applications for a constitutional convention have been submitted by the several states for various reasons that include taxation, polygamy and abortion. In some cases states have formally rescinded their applications and others have not. A con con has never resulted.

On August 8, 1987, Phyllis Schlafly addressed the American Bar Association, cautioning against advocating a con con for a balanced budget amendment for several reasons that Schlafly summed up as akin to playing "Russian Roulette." Schafly stated at that time there were 32 states on record calling for a con con.

Ohio’s stealthy attempt at passing HJR 8 created some 11th hour concern because it is being reported that there are currently 32 states on record for a con con. If Ohio had passed HJR 8 and forwarded its application for a con con to Congress, then all it would take is for one more state and the 1787 con con would essentially be reopened—this time with a bunch of communists (See page 19) with zero appreciation for the republican form of government the Founders provided in our Constitution.

Under the present social and political circumstances, the 34th state could call for a con con within a few weeks and the Constitution could be open for serious revision at this precipitous time. The patriots who prevented the Ohio Legislature from voting Dec. 10 are to be commended.

But, by what measure are there 32 states calling for a con con? Who is in charge of tallying that number? Is there a law governing who’s on record and who’s not—which states have rescinded and which have not; which applications have sunsetted and which have not? Who or what agency is the ultimate arbiter of which applications are valid and which are not?

In researching this article, I found no answers to those key questions, though there was reference to the promise (threat?) that Congress would form a committee to address those and other questions if and when the time arises.

Are we two states away from a con con? That question cannot be answered at this time. In my mind the questions are, "Do we still have a constitution to convene over?" And, considering a pending Obama presidency, the transition, the economy, the environment, the wars and everything else that is happening right now, why would "they" be triggering a con con at this time?