INDIANAPOLIS | If some day the parchment of the U.S. Constitution is added to the ash heap of history, an action taken by the Indiana Senate this week may prove to be the spark that eventually set flame to the document that's governed the nation since 1789.
The Republican-controlled chamber on Tuesday approved a resolution asking Congress to order a national constitutional convention to consider amendments intended to limit the regulatory and taxing authority of the federal government and re-balance power between the federal government and the states.
"Because they have the purse strings they can literally blackmail the states into doing what they want. ... State's rights get obliterated after a while," said Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne. "It's getting to the point where there's just one government, that's the federal government, and we're implementing their will."
Article V of the U.S. Constitution requires Congress call a constitutional convention when two-thirds of state legislatures request one. Senate Joint Resolution 18, which now goes to the House, formalizes Indiana's request.
Long, the sponsor of the resolution, said he plans to spread the word about the need for a constitutional convention by sending a "how to do it" kit to legislative leaders in other states.
He wants them to mimic the language in Indiana's resolution, so Congress will have no reason to deny a convention if 34 states ask for one.
"I'm very hopeful that we'll be able to start something, maybe a brush fire out there," Long said. "I know there are a number of other leaders, particularly senate leaders, in the country that have talked about doing this."
While Long insists his convention call isn't "kooky" because the framers "gave us the ability expecting us to utilize it as the key tool to limit federal overreach," he acknowledges no one knows what might happen at a constitutional convention.
After all, the convention that wrote the current Constitution of the United States was initially organized to revise the Articles of Confederation, the nation's first constitution. Instead, led by George Washington, convention delegates meeting in private wrote an entirely new constitution that later was ratified by the states.
Long believes Senate Bills 224 and 225, which set the duties and method of selection for Indiana's convention delegates, will prevent a "runaway convention" by empowering the Legislature to recall the state's delegates if they go rogue.
Both of those measures are set for review by the House after winning Senate approval on Tuesday.
Critics of Long's convention call, including Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, insist there's no guaranteed way to prevent a runaway convention.
Lanane said the country could end up worse off if the legitimacy of the Constitution is compromised by a competing document or the convention proposes amendments that strip Americans of rights they now enjoy.
"It's a little bit of a dangerous road we go down at this time," Lanane said. "As much as we may want to say this application will only be about the commerce clause, it will only be about taxation, I don't see how Indiana can tell all the other states what they think should be considered at this convention."
Long's resolution calling for a convention, if also approved by the House, expires only if it is rescinded by a future General Assembly.