Kansas Legislature harbors apprehension about authorizing U.S. constitutional convention

House, Senate fall short of required two-thirds margins to commit.
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Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum lobbied the House and Senate in an effort to pass resolutions committing Kansas to a convention of states to advance amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The resolutions failed to reach the required two-thirds majorities in Kansas, but Santorum was convinced the convention would eventually occur. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum remains convinced another 15 state legislatures would eventually authorize a national constitutional convention to restrain federal government authority, limit federal spending and adopt term limits on federal officeholders.

He was in the Capitol to encourage the Republican-led House and Senate to adopt resolutions committing Kansas to a convention necessary to advance amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Turned out, the former Pennsylvania senator and one-time GOP presidential candidate would have to wait until next year or beyond to receive Kansas’ consent to join the likes of Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska and 16 other states.

“I wouldn’t be devoting sort of the last few years of political activity in my life to this cause if I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Santorum told Kansas Reflector. “I think there is a very good chance that this will happen once people become educated. That’s one of the big problems we have.”

The Kansas House voted 74-48 for House Concurrent Resolution 5008, but fell 10 shy of the required two-thirds majority. On the same day in late March, the Kansas Senate supported in a 22-16 vote Senate Concurrent Resolution 1607. That was five short of the mandatory threshold.

Despite a rally outside the Statehouse featuring Santorum, the outcomes meant the campaign was likely dead for the 2023 legislative session in Kansas.

Thirty-four states must approve measures calling for the convention of states before Congress set the time and place for such a gathering. In deliberation on potential amendments at the convention, each state would have one vote. Constitutional amendments approved at the convention would be forwarded to the states and 38 affirmative votes, or a two-thirds majority of states, would be needed to change the federal constitution.

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Salina Republican Rep. Clarke Sanders sought passage of resolutions calling for a convention of states to reform the U.S. Constitution and restrain power of the federal government. The House and Senate didn’t reach required two-thirds majorities to commit Kansas to a convention. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

‘The greater risk’

Rep. Clarke Sanders, the Salina Republican who carried the convention resolution in the House, said the federal government had profoundly exceeded its authority while giving rise to a federal debt exceeding $31 trillion. Irresponsible conduct of federal lawmakers required new limitations on spending and prohibitions on intrusion into lives of Americans, he said. To top it off, he said, members of Congress should be term-limited.

He said states had to rely on Article 5 powers embedded in the U.S. Constitution to check abuses of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. Delegates to the constitutional convention would be bound to guidance from state legislatures, he said, but there was some level of risk the convention would delve into unexpected subjects.

“The greater risk is waiting and doing nothing. Our federal government is broken,” Sanders said. “The federal government is operating at a level of power and control over our lives that has never been seen before.”

Rep. JoElla Hoye, D-Lenexa, said the House resolution didn’t outline how delegates from Kansas would be chosen, leaving open the possibility only Republicans or conservatives would be appointed. She said the notion raised by Sanders of a rogue convention of states was a real possibility.

“It is not certain we can keep to a single subject in this matter,” Hoye said. “If we called the Article 5 convention other topics could potentially come up.”

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Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, said he was loathe to support Kansas’ endorsement of a convention of states because there was no guarantee the state’s delegates would commit themselves to representing interests of the full range of political views in Kansas. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Selection process II

Sen. Dennis Pyle, an independent from Hiawatha who has vacillated between support and opposition to the convention, said he needed to know how Kansas delegates would be chosen. The Senate resolution didn’t lay out specifics of the selection process, apparently leaving that issue to subsequent legislators to decide.

“I’m begging for an answer,” Pyle said. “How do you call a convention when you don’t know how you’re going to do it? I think that ought to come first. Who’s going to select them?”

The U.S. Constitution was silent on methods relied on by states to pick who would go to the convention and how those delegates would use their singular vote, said Sen. Mike Thompson, the Shawnee Republican who carried the Senate’s version of the convention resolution.

Thompson said those details would be worked out ahead of a convention and delegates would be bound to uphold whatever oath was adopted by Kansas lawmakers. Despite that uncertainty, he said, demand for action against the federal government was palpable among his Johnson County constituents.

“I don’t think anyone with sincerity could argue the federal government isn’t out of control,” Thompson said. “I hear from constituents all the time asking for us to push back. This is the way we do it.”

Sen. John Doll, the Garden City Republican not seeking re-election in 2024, said he wasn’t persuaded convention delegates from Kansas would represent the state’s interests. He said about 70% of Kansans favored expansion of eligibility of Medicaid to lower-income people, but the Senate had blocked bills to comply with that public expectation. At the same time, more than 60% of Kansans want medical marijuana to be legal, but the Senate bottled up that bill as well.

He said the House and Senate voted with two-thirds majorities to place an anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution on a statewide ballot in August 2022, but it was overwhelmingly rejected by voters.

“Are we a reflection of the populous in Kansas?” Doll said. “I don’t think this (convention) process will truly represent the populous.”


Rep. William Clifford, a Garden City Republican interested in replacing Doll in the Senate, said he hadn’t warmed to the idea of a constitutional convention until he sought election to the U.S. House. He then discovered the amount of time candidates for Congress had to devote to raising money from political insiders in Washington, D.C.

He said representatives of states had to step forward and serve as modern revolutionaries to fix the nation’s political structure.

“The power of money and the power of incumbency has made this system transient and broken,” Clifford said. “Will Congress fix itself? No way.”

Burlington GOP Rep. Eric Smith echoed Clifford’s sentiment. He said a monster of tyranny had ripped its way to the core of the federal government. He said it would be useful for people on the fence about approving a constitutional convention to refer back to the Federalist Papers, the collection of writing by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay promoting ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

“My greatest fear is we’ll have a constitution, but we won’t have a country,” said Rep. Will Carpenter, R-El Dorado.

Rep. Tim Johnson, the Bonner Springs Republican, said a convention could target abuses associated with campaign contributions. He said dark money helped build a formidable wall around incumbents who didn’t necessarily remain committed to the nation’s interests. The system supported a reservoir of federal bureaucrats willing to sustain their influence while degrading the constitution and sacrificing individual freedoms, he said.

Other perspectives

Rep. Carl Maughan, a Republican from Colwich, said he prayed long and hard about the House resolution on a convention of states. In the end, he decided against trusting politicians he didn’t know with authority to tweak a constitutional blueprint he considered to be the work of God.

Maughan, raised in Zimbabwe and South Africa, said he was convinced at a young age in supremacy of the U.S. Constitution. He was struck by corruption and destructiveness of Marxist policy in Zimbabwe. He enrolled at Wichita State University to study political science and philosophy, became and attorney and later a U.S. citizen.

“I truly came to believe the constitution was divinely inspired to show men what the proper relationship between men and their government in civil society is,” he said.

Rep. Michael Houser, R-Columbus, said there were obvious problems in state and federal government. He’d like to see term limits in the Legislature, but that bill has gained no traction. He’d welcome elimination of the Federal Reserve Bank, but didn’t see that on the horizon.

He had stood against a convention of states several times during his 11 years in the House.

“It gets exhausting. It really does,” Houser said. “I call this one the ‘Kitchen Sink of COS.’ It’s got not one, not two, it’s got three items in it. That’s triple the danger. If if hasn’t sunk in yet, you’re either deaf or delusional.”

In an interview, Santorum shook his head in dismay at alarmists opposed to working on refining the U.S. Constitution.

He said critics were wrong to warn of a runaway convention capable of stripping Americans of cherished rights. The objective of a convention would be to secure fundamental state rights from federal overreach, he said. Convincing GOP holdouts and quick-to-object Democrats wouldn’t be easy in Kansas and other holdout states, he said.

“States have rights that the federal government has trampled over for years,” Santorum said. “I hate to call it willful ignorance on the part of folks who simply haven’t taken the time to investigate the concerns they have about this. It’s provably false and yet they don’t take the time to look at it and realize that every person who is appointed to go to the convention swears an oath that they would uphold the limitations on what the convention was called for.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Categories: Politics