“I think we came close to having a constitutional crisis,” says Masterson’s fellow Republican, state Sen. Rob Olson, of Olathe.
A Senate resolution would have called for a “convention of the states” to consider amending the U.S. Constitution. Many conservatives are pushing for constitutional amendments to curtail what they see as growing federal power and spending.
The thing is, Masterson was ready to let the resolution pass by a simple 21-vote majority — despite the fact that the Kansas Constitution clearly requires a two-thirds vote of both the Senate and House to call for a constitutional convention. In the Senate, that means 27 votes.
We know that, of course, because in 1974 the Kansas Legislature asked voters to write the two-thirds majority into the state constitution — which they did.
Even if such a move were ultimately deemed constitutional, which is highly unlikely, why would Masterson and others in leadership choose to ignore the unambiguous desire of their constituents for a two-thirds majority?
Fortunately, the Senate voted 21-19 on Wednesday to shelve the resolution for now, and likely for the year, in its Federal and State Affairs Committee.
But the Senate came within one switched vote of ignoring both the state constitution and the will of the 68% of voters who decided to require the two-thirds majority back in 1974.
Senate leaders argued that the U.S. Constitution — which is silent on how legislatures may decide to call for constitutional conventions — somehow trumps Kansas voters’ voice in the matter.
Really? Why should voters go to the trouble of amending the state constitution if legislators are just going to completely disregard the outcome?
During a fierce hours-long debate on the matter, Olson asked Senate leaders if that was really their intent.
“Their answer was that they’re going to basically destroy the state constitution, and they’re going to throw it in the trash can, because they feel they can procedurally do this,” Olson told The Star Editorial Board. “But I’ve never seen, in my 17 years, any other leader try to do that.
“I’m not a lawyer like other members. But I’ve been around enough of them, and I’ve never heard a rationale that I heard (Wednesday) night. I think that they were definitely trying to usurp the constitution. I think what they were doing was bad.”
Olson’s view means even more when you consider that he actually supports a convention of the states and has voted for it in the past.
“I would’ve been happy to vote for it, but they were intending to violate the (state) constitution,” he says. “It’s got to be done right. That’s what makes this country great.”
It’s encouraging that the 21-senator vote to shelve the resolution was an amalgam of GOP conservatives and moderates and Democrats. “I think we defended the constitution,” Olson says.
The question is, why wouldn’t state Senate leaders do the same?