Alabama has become the first state to rescind a call for a constitutional convention to pass a balanced-budget amendment, overriding Gov. Guy Hunt after he vetoed the measure at the urging of the White House.
Alabama reversed its 1976 call for a constitutional convention last month following an intense lobbying campaign waged by an unlikely coalition that included Norman Lear's People for the American Way, labor unions, Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the John Birch Society.
Alabama was one of 32 states that had called for a constitutional convention -- just two states short of the number needed to trigger a convention and one state short of the number the Reagan administration has said it was seeking to press Congress into adopting a balanced-budget provision on its own.
No new states have signed on to the call for a constitutional convention since 1983, when Missouri became the 32nd state to endorse the idea. Recently, opponents of a constitutional convention have begun mounting an effort not just to block further calls but also to roll back
the progress that supporters of the
constitutional convention had
Florida last week held a hearing on a proposal to rescind its call, and Texas and South Carolina may also consider such action, according to opponents of the convention. "I think it is a strong victory for our side," said John H. Buchanan Jr., a former Republican House member from Alabama who is chairman of People for the American Way.
"We think having a new constitutional convention is a very bad idea," said Schlafly. "We have a wonderful Constitution that has lasted for 200 years, and we don't think anybody should play games with it." Schlafly said that the Alabama action "deals a death blow to the movement" for a convention, likening it to Nebraska's rescission in 1973 of its ratification of the proposed Equal Rights Amendement. "It shows that the tide has turned," she said.
The concern uniting the opposition was a fear that a constitutional convention might become a political Pandora's Box, letting loose a whirlwind of changes and fundamentally altering the nature of U.S. government.
"This takes us one step away from the brink," said Linda Rogers-Kingsbury, president of Citizens to Protect the Constitution, an umbrella group that has been active on this issue. Rogers-Kingsbury said the group does not oppose the notion of a balanced budget but opposes a constitutional convention that would "put the whole Constitution up for grabs."
However, Frank Donatelli, director of the White House office of politics and intergovernmental affairs, replied that "the Justice Department has produced a rather lengthy analysis after much review of the history books and the statutes and the first constitutional convention that indicates that such a constitutional convention could be limited as to subject matter."
James D. Davidson, chairman of the National Taxpayers Union, which has pushed for the constitutional convention and the balanced-budget amendment, said that proponents were caught by surprise by the effort to repeal calls for the convention.
"We continue to be amazed to witness this incredible fantasy movement about a runaway convention," he said. "The strange thing is that the Birch Society and Phyllis, who's kind of the Mad Hatter of American society, have latched onto this and they apparently really believe that there is a conspiracy, of which I'm a member."