A Constitutional Conventional Candidate

The United States was called into being
by a Continental Congress, which delegated Thomas Jefferson to draft a
Declaration of Independence and then, courageously, embraced the
radical document.

But the United States as we know it did not take shape until 11
years after the declaration, when delegates from the former British
colonies that had attempted to govern themselves with a loose set of
agreements -- the Articles of Confederation -- gathered at Philadelphia
to establish a more serious framework for the American experiment.

The gathering, a constitutional convention, did not merely produce a
document. it opened a rich national debate that remains, in many
senses, unsettled to this day. The wrangling over our Constitution is
not a bad thing. It is an indication of the extent to which we are all
still engaged in the great work of nation building.

That work has not been easy. It has required a Civil War and
movements for women's suffrage, civil rights, voting rights and
progressive reforms such as a directly-elected Senate to forge a more
perfect union. And that work is unfinished.

The combination of bumbling and corruption that surrounded the
appointment of U.S. senators to replace Barack Obama, Joe Biden,
Hillary Clinton and Ken Salazar in late 2008 and early 2009 provoked
calls for amending the Constitution to assure that no one can sit in the Senate without being elected -- as is the rule of for the House.

The recent Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United v. FEC case has led to a movement to amend the Constitution to
clarify the intent of the founders so that activist courts cannot
create the fantasy that corporations (including arms of foreign firms)
have the same rights as U.S. citizens.

The Citizens United fiasco has, as well, inspired talk of convening a constitutional convention
to address the broader challenges posed by the development of
corporations so powerful that they can not only corrupt our democracy
but control our media and collapse our economy.

The call for a constitutional convention is radical, in the best
sense of the word -- but, also, in a sense that frightens even some of
my favorite small "d" democrats. The notion of throwing open the
discussion about the character of the American experiment and its
future direction is unsettling, especially to those who fear that
less-nobly-inclined fellow citizens might be inclined to hijack the

Such fears have, for 223 years, prevented the United States from
holding a second constitutional convention. But sometimes, "in the
course of human events," it becomes necessary to act boldly. The United
States has come close to calling that second convention -- most
recently in the late 1970s when more than two dozen state legislatures
endorsed a move to hold a limited constitutional convention to write a
balanced-budget amendment and force action upon it. (The move fell
short because the movement failed to obtain calls from 34 state
legislatures, as required by the Constitution.)

Despite the disinclination to hold a new constitutional convention
at the federal level -- at least up to this point -- states around the
country have regularly held conventions to rework their constitutions.
Many states have done so repeatedly since they entered the union;
indeed, a number of states have established timelines for regular
review of whether to update their documents.

The churn of the current moment has inspired calls for
constitutional conventions in states across the country, with serious
consideration having been given to the notion in California, New York and Illinois, among other states.

One of the most interesting variations on this theme will play out
Tuesday in Pennsylvania's Democratic primary for governor. Auditor
General Jack Wagner,
a Vietnam veteran, former legislator and twice-elected statewide
official with a reputation for upsetting the big banks and political
insiders, is bidding for governor on a platform build around a call for a constitutional convention to reform state government.

"I'm convinced we have to do radical things to (fix) how we operate
and be more fiscally responsible," says Wagner, who would like to see a
constitutional convention reduce the size of the state legislature so
that it can operate more functionally, take politics out of the
redistricting process, enact meaningful campaign finance reform and end
no bid contract procurement.

Wagner argues that only a constitutional convention can get Pennsylvania focused on making needed reforms.

And he's convinced some serious Pennsylvanians that he is right.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, the state's largest newspaper has
endorsed Wagner, describing him as the candidate who is "taking a
focused, unbiased look at how Pennsylvania can do a better job..."

Philadelphia's City Paper calls him a "coolly pragmatic" candidate
with a "realistic" plan to achieve "sweeping changes to how
Pennsylvania works on a fundamental level."

Unfortunately, the seriousness of Wagner's call for reform has not
endeared him to the big-money donors, who have steered their funding a
candidate who is more likely to maintain the status quo, Allegheny
County Executive Don Onorato.

Though Wagner has significant labor support, he can't match
Onorato's money. And that may mean he will lose a race that also
includes well-financed state Senator Anthony Williams and liberal
former Congressman Joe Hoeffel.

But Wagner has stirred things up in Pennsylvania with a bold call
for using a constitutional convention to get citizens involved in
shaping real reforms.

He has been attacked by those who fear radical interventions.

But it should be noted that it was in a Pennsylvania city,
Philadelphia no less, that a radical intervention was made in 1787 --
with some success.

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