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Biggs’ argument sways Senate to reject call for convention to amend the U.S. Constitution

Sen. Andy Biggs, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, argued Jan. 20 that the ballot measure that expanded health care coverage in Arizona, which was passed in 2000, allows lawmakers to cut AHCCCS funding without asking for voters' approval. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Sen. Andy Biggs pled Thursday that the Senate not entangle the state in a call for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution regarding federal debt. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Do you trust us?

With this simple question, Sen. Andy Biggs, a conservative Republican from Gilbert, swayed the Senate into rejecting a proposal for Arizona to call for a convention in order to amend the U.S. Constitution with language that seeks to limit federal debt.

Before Biggs’ impassioned speech, the proposal was headed for approval.

Half of the senators had registered a “yes” vote, with Senate President Russell Pearce expecting to join them and to give the proposal the needed 16 votes to pass.

“I believe this state Legislature is the best state Legislature,” Biggs said.

“And, yet, I don’t trust us,” he added, pausing between sentences. “Do you trust us to handle the U.S. Constitution and its revision? I am not sure I do. And, thus, I have no other recourse but to vote ‘no’ this bill.”

After Biggs’ speech, at least two senators, including Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, and Senate Majority Whip Steve Pierce, switched to “no.”

The final tally was a disappointment for supporters — 13-to-17.

Under SCR1016, Arizona would call for a convention in order to propose an amendment saying any increase in federal debt must require the approval of majority of the state legislatures.

The debate over the measure expectedly revolved around the positions the country’s founders took regarding the future ability to amend the U.S constitution.

Critics and backers also hewed closely along familiar arguments.

For backers, Article 5 was written into the U.S. Constitution because the country’s founders anticipated the need for the states to initiate an amendment, as a means, for example, to check a “runaway” federal government.

They said the push for a convention is perfectly legitimate and constitutional.

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, the sponsor of the legislation, said that a critical omission from the U.S. Constitution is lack of a mechanism to limit Congress’ ability to take on debt. She said her proposal is a commonsense solution.

Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, also argued that in the tug-and-pull between the states and the federal government, states can’t win by playing defense,

“You can hold back, you can hang on, you can kind of sit there and hope for the best,” he said. “But you don’t win unless you play offense… This puts us on offense.”

Critics countered that since any amendment could be proposed during a convention, there is no way of knowing what would come out of it.

They also said nobody knows what the political situation will be when the actual convention takes place. And, they noted, under Article 5, Congress ultimately gets to decide the method of ratifying a proposed amendment.

Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said he won’t risk opening the entire U.S. Constitution to changes for a debt limiting clause that Congress “will merely ignore anyway.”

For a while, senators flipped their votes from “no” to “yes” and the final outcome was unclear.

But Biggs’s speech turned the tide against the bill.

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