Spotsylvania County’s Board of Supervisors think it’s time to rein in the federal government.
And the supervisors are taking action.
After a presentation by a group pushing for a little-known aspect of Article V in the U.S. Constitution at the Feb. 12 board meeting, the supervisors voted, 5–2, to support a resolution to urge the Virginia General Assembly to support a “convention of states.”
Supervisor David Ross invited three members of Convention of States Virginia to give a presentation, during which they laid out problems such a convention would seek to address.
John Dahmen, a Spotsylvania resident and “district captain” with the COS Virginia, laid out the “four major abuses perpetrated by the federal government” during a slideshow presentation: Spending and debt, a “regulatory crisis,” “Congressional attacks on state sovereignty,” and the “federal takeover of the decision-making process.”
“Washington, D.C., is out of control and will not relinquish power,” said Dahmen, a military veteran who described himself as a citizen activist. “It’s not that they aren’t following the Constitution—they are following the wrong one.”
The presentation highlighted the national debt, which has eclipsed $22 trillion.
Dahmen, reading from the presentation, criticized “anti-poverty” spending. He said the country has spent three times as much on such programs as Social Security and Medicare, between 1964 and 2014, than “all military wars since the American Revolution.”
Some projections say future obligations for those programs could add at least $50 trillion to the debt over the next 75 years.
“Is this how you would run the country or your personal finances?” Dahmen asked. “I think not.”
“This is a message to our General Assembly,” Ross said after the presentation.
Fellow Supervisor Tim McLaughlin supported the measure.
“It’s a long time coming,” he said, criticizing the federal government’s regulatory control of states and local governments.
Supervisors Chris Yakabouski and Gary Skinner voted against the resolution, but not because they oppose the concept. In fact, both supervisors said they support the idea of a convention of states.
But Yakabouski said during the meeting that he doesn’t think it is the board’s place to promote such agendas.
Skinner said in an interview Tuesday that the federal government “is out of control,” but he is concerned about the term limit aspect of the group’s proposal.
The convention of states is the lesser-known procedure by which amendments can be made to the constitution. It has never been used. Congress has instituted all of the amendments.
There have been 27 amendments to the Constitution since it was signed by a majority of legislators in 1787 (the document was ratified in 1788 and became the law of the land in 1789). But there has been a growing movement in the past year, driven by conservatives.
Ross, a Republican, and Dahmen said the movement is not a partisan issue.
“I think all political parties should be concerned about our debt and Congress doesn’t appear to have it in them to take action, regardless of what party is in control,” Ross said in an email this week.
According to Common Cause, a government watchdog group considered liberal by some, “conservative advocates are just six states short of reaching the constitutionally-required 34-state goal” needed to convene a convention of states.
Spotsylvania is the third Virginia county to pass a resolution supporting a convention of states, following Prince William and New Kent.
Stephen Farnsworth, a University of Mary Washington professor and political analyst, said the convention of states has gained renewed interest in recent years, something spurred by the tea party, a fiscally conservative faction of the GOP.
But he doubts the movement will amount to a convention, and echoed the primary fear voiced by others that has kept it from happening for more than 200 years.
“The reason it’s never been called are concerns that it would create a wide-open process,” he said. “The fear of a runaway convention has been a major barrier.”
That fear, he added, is felt on the left and right of the political spectrum.
He said concerns of politicians on the right focus on the Second Amendment, “the right of people to keep and bear arms,” and the possibility it could be targeted by a convention of states.
On the other hand, he said, left-leaning politicians worry about the fate of the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of religion, speech, the press and peaceably assembly by the people.
Farnsworth said the convention of states movement has an “uphill climb. It’s going to be a tough sell to get past that two-thirds states hurdle.”