Editor's Note: This column was co-authored by Democratic Ohio state Rep. Bill Patmon.
Have you noticed that people just don’t seem to like each other very much these days?
However, we’re two representatives with many significant differences. One of us is black, the other is white; one is a man, the other is a woman, one is a Democrat, the other is a Republican. In light of all these differences, some might expect us to be political opponents. But we’ve found a way to work together towards a common end that can unify Americans of every background, race, religion, and political persuasion.
Our secret can be found in the Constitution.
On September 17, America celebrates the anniversary of the day delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document they’d fashioned in 1787. You may not realize it, but within the Constitution is a little gem called Article V, which gives us, as state legislators, the power to call a Convention of States, to propose amendments to restrain the scope, power and jurisdiction of the federal government. To top it off, we can do that without the permission of Congress or the President.
According to James Madison’s notes, the founders understood that our nation was stitched together of many loose and disparate parts. They knew there were many different paths toward the “pursuit of happiness,” and people needed to be as free as possible to pursue those paths. This, of necessity, meant the federal government needed to mostly stay out of the people’s business. A one-size fits-all, extremely powerful central government would make almost no one happy. In fact, it would make most very unhappy. Of all our elected officials, those we send to Washington are the most difficult for the average citizens to contact, meet with, or influence, so it makes sense that the founders would have strictly limited the number and type of functions performed by the central government.
Today, we often hear it said that we’re “divided,” but that’s old news. America has always been divided. People hold many different opinions on many different issues. And the structure of our nation--a federal system--beautifully accommodates this diversity. Fifty different sets of state laws, policies, and regulations can reflect the personalities, customs, and beliefs of their people. That allows citizens to move to states that reflect their values. This was, and is, the model of the founders. They, too, lived in a divided time and understood the importance of federalism to hold a fractured nation together around a small set of core principles.
Today, the federal government has far exceeded the bounds imposed upon it by the Constitution. Polling has shown that Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and independents are unhappy with Washington D.C. telling us what to do. And no wonder. Given the vast scope of powers currently exercised in Washington, and the complexity of its processes, it is virtually impossible for the ordinary citizen to really know and understand what is happening in our nation’s capitol--much less to impact its processes. So the sad reality is that highly-paid lobbyists and special interest groups are the ones who have the most impact on what happens in our federal government.
It’s no surprise that Republicans become more unsatisfied during Democratic administrations and Democrats become frustrated during Republican administrations. That’s life. However, most don’t want unelected bureaucrats of either party deciding major issues for us. Today, these bureaucrats, who are unknown and unaccountable to us, crank out mountains of rules and regulations that have the force of law and impact almost every area of our lives.
A large part of the so-called division in America today comes not because we’re so different, but because Washington imposes its will on us in big and small ways. This is the antithesis of how our nation was designed. We want to decide for ourselves, at home.
This week, let’s look at the Constitution anew, the document which created the greatest of all nations. We should utilize the power found in Article V, and call a Convention of States -- not to make divisive policy that suits one party and alienates the other, but to unify as a people against the ruling elite of both parties. Only when we take the power from DC, and return it to the people in the states, can we stand on common ground.