Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said Tuesday that a convention of the states — allowed under Article V of the U.S. Constitution — is probably a long shot, and an issue that is not life or death.
“The world will not end tomorrow, one way or the other,” Vickers said.
But whether or not a convention ever occurs, Vickers said the prospect of state-sponsored amendments to the nation’s governing document could get the attention of federal leaders in Washington, D.C., and potentially put the country on a path toward fiscal responsibility and respect for the balance of powers.
“We’re serious about taking care of important issues like balancing the budget — if they had a budget — and doing the right thing,” Vickers said.
On Tuesday, 15 of Vickers’ Senate colleagues joined the Cedar City lawmaker in preliminary support for SJR9, which would add Utah to the roughly dozen states that have called for a constitutional convention — often affectionally shortened to a “Con-Con." The resolution requires an additional Senate vote before it moves to the Utah House, and with a 16-12 vote it is narrowly over the 15-member majority required for the chamber to approve legislation.
The House has previously supported resolutions calling for a Con-Con, which have typically fallen short in the Senate. The success of Vickers’ resolution there suggests Utah could join the call this year, barring delays or potential defections in the final weeks of the 2019 session.
Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, supported the resolution on Tuesday and said he values the union of the original 13 colonies in founding the nation, and would like to see the 50 states unite again to push back against overreach and dysfunction by the federal government.
“I believe that the states are sovereign," he said, “and we ought to exercise our rights as states.”
Adams echoed Vickers’ remarks that Utah passing a Con-Con resolution is valuable independent of whether a convention is ever formally called.
“If we can get a constitutional convention that would be great,” Adams said. “But I believe the dialogue of getting there is just as important as the actual convention.”
Six Republicans joined the Senate’s six Democratic members in opposing the resolution. Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, said he shares his colleagues’ concerns about the lack of a federal budget and the growing national deficit, but he said he does not have faith that opening up the Constitution to amendments in convention would result in a better outcome.
“From a leverage standpoint, maybe it’s a good strategy to try and drive a conversation that needs to happen," Kitchen said, “and sort of push our Congress to take our concerns seriously. But it seems too big a risk for me at this point.”