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Allen West, a retired U.S. Army colonel and former Florida congressman who has gained national popularity among conservatives, traveled to Jackson on Feb. 25 to throw celebrity support behind a resolution that would attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution.
West spoke at a news conference at the Capitol in support of Senate Concurrent Resolution 596, which would make Mississippi the 15th state to pass a resolution calling for a convention of the states, granted under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, to pass amendments that would limit the power of the federal government.
After the news conference, West slammed Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves at a luncheon near the Capitol attended by conservative supporters of the resolution.
“I gotta tell you something: I don’t like it when people shirk their responsibilities,” West said, explaining to supporters that Reeves declined an invitation to the news conference. “I don’t like it when people have misguided priorities. I just wonder if the lieutenant governor will be able to look at himself at the end of the day in the mirror, knowing that he couldn’t find two minutes. That’s not courage. That’s not what built this country.”
West continued: “Ask yourself about these elected officials. Before you give them your vote, which is a precious thing — men and women have fought and died so that you can have — who has the courage? Who has the competence? Who has the commitment and conviction to stand and say they represent you? Put them to the test. The person who’s sitting in the office of lieutenant governor of the great state of Mississippi, he failed that test for me today.”
The celebrity appeal paid off. As video of West’s criticism of Reeves circulated on social media, Mississippi conservatives peppered Reeves’ social media accounts with questions about why he’s refused to support the resolution. They organized phone banks to call Reeves’ office and lobby to bring the resolution to the floor for a vote.
Their goal was driven in part by Reeves’ lack of action in 2018, when the House passed a similar resolution and Reeves declined to bring it up in the Senate.
But on Thursday, the Reeves-led Senate brought up the resolution for a vote. After a lengthy floor debate with Democrats expressing concerns about the measure, the resolution passed by a vote of 32-17.
If passed by the House in the coming days, the resolution would make Mississippi the 15th state legislature to ask for an Article V Convention of the States. All four of Mississippi’s neighboring states have passed similar resolutions.
Article V gives state legislatures the power to call a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution. Thirty-four states must call for the convention, and 38 states must ratify any proposed amendment. To date, amendments to the Constitution have all originated in Congress and an Article V Convention of the States would be unprecedented in U.S. history.
The stated purpose of advocates’ call for a convention of the states is to pass amendments that would impose fiscal restraints on the federal government and limit its power and jurisdiction, as well as limit terms of office for federal officials and members of Congress.
“We’re having discussions about socialists in our Congress. Things are changing,” said Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, who defended the resolution on the Senate floor on Thursday. “This is for the limited purpose of imposing fiscal constraints and limiting the power and jurisdiction. Personally, the fact that our government is $22 trillion in debt right now is a concern not only for me, but my children and grandchildren. We have a spending problem right now in federal government.”
Even if 34 states pass similar measures, legal experts have questioned whether the individual resolutions would be similar enough to have legal standing.
Several advocacy groups joined forces on Thursday morning for a news conference at the Capitol to lobby against the resolution. Its opponents, including the the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and League of Women Voters, said the scope of the resolution is broadly worded so that anything in the Constitution could be amended, and that delegates sent to Washington on behalf of the convention would not be democratically elected by Mississippians.
“This bill’s purpose is to weaken and damage the Constitution,” said Lynn Evans, director of advocacy group Mississippi Common Cause. “The protections in the First Amendment for freedom of speech and peaceable assembly, freedom to choose one’s own religion, freedom of the press, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances are just one category of rights and liberties that would be on the table.”
Mississippi’s resolution uses similar language used by the Tea Party-led Convention of the States Project, which is advocating for the convention for the reasons listed above. The group lists 14 states — Arizona, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri, Alaska and Tennessee — as states that passed Convention of the States resolutions.
Several Democrats in the Senate criticized the resolution on Thursday.
“There is nothing more important than our oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson. “There is nothing more important that we can vote on. The flippant, casual, reckless way in which this resolution has been brought before us is a pathetic legacy of this Legislature. Think about what we’re doing.”