March 09, 2021

What could possibly go wrong?

 One of my favorite WV delegates likes to call the legislature a "bad idea factory." I think it's more like a bad idea giant industrial combine with a global supply chain this year. If I summarizing the session so far, it would be something like "burn it down and lock em up."

As if dismantling the state of West Virginia wasn't enough, a house committee wants to pass a resolution calling for an Article 5 constitutional convention. Supposedly, the proposed convention would be limited to enacting term limits to congress, which I think is itself a bad idea, but there's nothing that guarantees any limits on other changes if they open it up. I mean, what could possibly go wrong by rewriting the US Constitution?

Anyhow, there was an online public hearing about the measure last Friday. Several people who spoke in support of the measure were from out of state groups. Here's what I had to say:

I am speaking today in opposition to this measure.

I’m no engineer, but I know engineers frequently try to reduce friction in designing various types of machines. The framers of our constitution deliberately took the opposite approach: they created a system that basically guaranteed friction in terms of the separation of powers and various forms of check and balances to limit that damage that could be done in the heat of the moment without such safeguards.

They created a system that made major changes to the constitution possible but not necessarily easy. Twenty seven amendments have been enacted in 244 years, which amounts to an average of one amendment for every nine years of our existence as a nation.

This system has served us well through those years in good times and bad and has withstood many crises. It is for this reason I oppose efforts to amend it by means of an Article 5 constitutional convention. Proponents of such a measure may claim that the purpose of any such convention could be limited to dealing with a small number of issues. However, Article 5 itself poses no such limits once the process has begun. The risks of such a measure are incalculable.

Some have argued that such a measure would be desirable so that term limits could be enacted on congressional representatives. In fact, voters have it within their power to limit the terms of elected officials at every election cycle. Elected officials can limit their own terms at any time. 

Constitutionally limiting such terms would run counter to good government. The intricacies of congressional procedures and public policies can take a long time to learn. We all know that it takes a while to get good at anything.  Term limits would be a barrier to that knowledge, leaving it to unelected officials. If one is concerned about a deep state, this should be an object of concern. 

Would anyone want to serve in an army, a fire department or a hospital entirely staffed by fresh and inexperienced recruits?

Finally, research in game theory has shown that the incentives to cooperation increase with the possibility of future interaction, which is one reason why historically the US senate with its longer terms has been described as more collegial than the house. In a time of extreme polarization, we need to do all we can to promote rational debate and policy making in the interests of the nation at large.

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