Right or left, groups in Utah unite to try to kill a resolution calling for a constitutional convention

Posted at 3:10 PM, Feb 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-27 20:05:47-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Groups on the right and left are uniting on Utah's Capitol Hill to defeat a resolution calling for a constitutional convention of the United States.

Both groups have branded a resolution advancing in the Utah State Legislature as "dangerous." Senate Joint Resolution 9 defied expectations and passed the Utah State Senate on Wednesday, headed for the House.

Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, speaks in support of his constitutional convention resolution. (Image by Doug Eldredge, FOX 13 News)

"You listen to both sides, you’d think the world is going to end!" said Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, who is sponsoring it.

Sporting a crown and cape made of "blue notes," communications from constituents upset over SJR9, Sen. Vickers argued for a constitutional convention on the Senate floor.

"I think it’s a tool we need to use to make change in our country," he said.

It narrowly passed on a 16-12 vote, now headed to the House of Representatives. On the Senate floor, lawmakers were divided. Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, called the resolution "very dangerous." His comments were echoed by Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City.

"I think it’s a very dangerous call to call the entire Constitution of the United States into a conference," he said. "Where we could lose more freedom than we could gain. With that I vote no."

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, supported it.

"I know there’s a lot of concern this could do bad things that anything can be proposed. But whatever’s proposed would have to pass three quarters of all the states," he said.

The last time a constitutional convention was called was in 1787. It takes 34 states to call for one. If Utah's resolution passes, we'd be state number 29.

The liberal Alliance for a Better Utah has joined with the conservative Utah Eagle Forum in actively lobbying against the bill. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Utah also is asking its members to defeat it.

"We’re opposed to this, the Eagle Forum is opposed to this, we think it’s a really, really dangerous bill," said ABU's policy director Lauren Simpson.

League co-president Catherine Weller warned the entire U.S. Constitution could be up for a rewrite.

"Pick your amendment! The whole constitution can be on the table without guardrails," she said.

Depending on who you talk to, they have a wish list of amendments they'd like to see added or subtracted. Conservatives would like to enhance the Second Amendment or maybe roll back same-sex marriage. Liberals would favor gun control or add an Equal Rights Amendment.

"We’re talking about a convention that will open up the entire constitution for amendments," said Gayle Ruzicka, the president of the Utah Eagle Forum.

Sen. Vickers wants SJR9 to call for a balanced budget amendment. Speaking to reporters after the vote on Wednesday, he suggested fears of an entire rewrite were overblown.

"Realistically, at the end of the day, ask yourself the question can 38 states come together on something that’s bad for the country? They can’t even come together on something that’s good for the country," he said. "That’s a high bar!"

Ruzicka raised concerns that a "con con," as it's nicknamed, could easily be derailed and last weeks, if not months.

The Utah Eagle Forum, which for years has had a powerful citizen lobbying brigade on Capitol Hill, is marshaling its forces again to defeat the "con con resolution." Ruzicka urged the public to call lawmakers to object to it.

"They need to call a lot of their members in the House now and tell them 'Don’t mess with my Constitution. Don’t rewrite the Constitution of the United States,'" she said.

The Alliance for a Better Utah said it had hope the resolution would fail in the House.

"We’re really encouraged the Eagle Forum is taking such a strong against this and, yeah, we hope it fails," said Simpson, who acknowledged it was unusual that her group was rooting for the Utah Eagle Forum.

"I know, it’s a first!" she laughed.