Convention of States project comes to Capitol seeking traction in Trump era

Author: John Tomasic - March 31, 2017 - Updated: April 1, 2017

State Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, addresses Convention of States supporters at the Capitol in Denver, March 30, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)
State Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, addresses Convention of States project supporters at the Capitol in Denver, March 30, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

Colorado state legislators Lori Saine and Vicki Marble plan to introduce a resolution this session directed to Congress and calling for a states convention to amend the U.S. Constitution in order to reduce the power of the federal government.

“They usually just put state resolutions through the paper shredder, you know?” said Marble on Thursday. “But they can’t do that with this resolution. They have to at least keep it in a file.”

That’s because the resolution is tied to Article V of the U.S. Constitution, she said, which allows two-thirds of the states to band together and propose amendments to the Constitution. It’s not an easy feat to pull off for many reasons — one of them being that the states have to be in agreement about what they plan to propose.

Marble, a senator from Fort Collins, was speaking at a noontime event organized on the west steps of the Capitol to boost grassroots support and lay out the plan.

The Convention of States project has been in the works for years but has recently gained more interest.

One of the state leaders, Aaron Dukette, said the project has notched 12,457 petition-signers and boasts 40 legislative district captains in Colorado.

The motivating idea is that the federal government has overstepped its constitutional mandate, that it “has its hands in almost every area of our lives,” as the group’s literature puts it, and that as a result, citizens are being drained of their democratic power and future generations will be doomed to “inherit a bankrupt nation run by an unaccountable bureaucracy.” The idea is to put more power into the hands of state lawmakers who are more accessible and accountable to citizens.

Sate Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, addresses Convention of States project supporters at the Capitol in Denver, March 30, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)
Sate Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, addresses the Convention of States crowd. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

Speakers at the event decried Republican and Democratic leadership in Washington. They pointed out how disillusioned citizens have been no matter who is in charge.

“All the promises are just dust in the wind,” said Randy Corporon, an attorney and occasional conservative radio host in Colorado. “It’s the system that’s the problem.”

“People tell you, ‘Oh, just get my guy elected and he’ll fix it,’” said Saine, a Republican representative from Firestone. “Well, they don’t fix it.”

She told the crowd that lawmakers were considering the state budget bill inside the building.

“We’re in there battling another tax increase,” she said. The crowd booed. “The convention of the states isn’t revolutionary; it’s restorationary. Let’s get back to the government as the founders conceived it. Let’s put the restraints on government because we can’t trust Washington to restrain itself!”

Supporters of the movement, in Colorado at least and at the event Thursday, seem overwhelming to land on the right side of the political spectrum. They seem like people who were politicized by tea party politics and then let down by the resumption of the status quo — the durability of the “swamp.”

“I guess you might say it’s a coming out,” said Christopher LaCount tentatively about the gathering at the Capitol. “This is the first event here we’ve held since I’ve been [with the project], which is about a year.”

LaCount is the House District 44 captain of the Convention of States effort in Colorado. He said the project must become bipartisan if it is ever to succeed.

“It just shouldn’t happen without bipartisan support. It can’t be a convention of Republicans. Bipartisan support is what we’re after.”

LaCount conceded that he personally has little connection to Democratic politics or lawmakers.

“My state legislators are Republicans,” he said, adding that he is represented by Rep. Kim Ransom from Littleton and Sen. Jim Smallwood from Parker.

As the event organizers set up signs and wired microphones, a man wearing a loud NRA shirt talked with some of the hosts. Another man leaned against a railing listening to Rush Limbaugh on a phone speaker he had tucked into the back collar of his shirt.

Limbaugh was celebrating the accuracy of “The Americans,” the FX television series that follows two Russian spies stationed in Virginia in the 1980s as the escalating Cold War sped to its sudden conclusion. He was decrying the overreaching and ultimately self-defeating hand of the Soviet government.

“Local grocery store shelves were empty,” he said. “The show depicts this very well. There’s nothing on the shelves in the stores — and if a store was adequately stocked, the government would throw the owners in jail because they figured they were corrupt.”

If ever there was time for the movement to capture the interest of the left, the era of the daily controversial Trump administration might be it.

Still, no Democratic lawmakers appeared at the Capitol event, even out of curiosity. Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman inadvertently came down the steps on her way to somewhere else. She smiled at the crowd and then stooped to pet a dog.

People trailed to and from a table where they filled out petitions in support of the movement and volunteered to join the effort to win over more supporters in Colorado.

Corporon told the crowd he had to catch a plane. He climbed onto a large motorcycle, set it to life and rumbled away into traffic.

Marble said that attending a mock states convention was one of the “best things” she had done as a state legislator. It opened her eyes and gave her hope.

“We do have the power to do what’s right,” she said.

John Tomasic

John Tomasic

John Tomasic is a senior political reporter for The Colorado Statesman covering the Colorado Legislature.

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