It’s been five years since Jim DeMint left the U.S. Senate, but he’s still trying to shake up Washington.
Disappointed by the inability of conservatives to move the needle in D.C., DeMint was back in Columbia Wednesday with a new group and a new proposal to change the federal government – have states amend the U.S. Constitution.
DeMint — who represented South Carolina in the Senate from 2004 to 2012 and, previously, its 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1998 to 2004 — signed on in June 2017 as a senior adviser to the Convention of States Project.
The national project wants individual states to call for a convention that could write and propose constitutional amendments to require a balanced budget, impose term limits on members of Congress and federal judges, and limit the federal government’s “power and jurisdiction.”
On Wednesday, DeMint came to the State House along with 76 other convention activists to lobby S.C. lawmakers to support the idea. A resolution currently before the Legislature would add South Carolina to the roll of a dozen other states that already have called for a constitutional convention.
“If there’s no longer any political path forward to stop spending, or to give the stats more flexibility on infrastructure, on health care, on education, then the Constitution says the states can get together and clarify federal power,” said DeMint.
Having the support of DeMint, the godfather of the Tea Party movement during years in the Senate, has been a boon for the Convention of States Project, said regional director Ken Clark.
“I don’t think you can calculate the impact he’s had,” Clark said. “He opens up doors for us in all 50 states.”
‘A bogus argument’
Some lawmakers didn’t need convincing.
State Reps. Jason Elliott, R-Greenville, and Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, both spoke Tuesday in support of a resolution calling for a constitutional convention.
“I think the Founders would look down and say, ‘God bless you for understanding what we were trying to do,’ ” Taylor told the activists. “Article V includes the states because they knew we might have to rise up against a federal government that got too big, too almighty, too powerful.”
Elliott said even if a constitutional convention is never called, the idea could create more pressure on Congress to take action on activists’ concerns.
“So far, they have failed to engage on spending or term limits,” Elliott said. “So whether the people through the states can achieve this, or if it motivates our representatives to do their jobs, the same goals are met.”
Under the Constitution’s Article V, two-thirds of the states – or 34 – can call for a convention without an act of Congress. Any proposed constitutional amendment passed by the convention then would have to be approved by three-quarters of the states – or 38 – to become part of the Constitution.
That required level of support ensures that a constitutional convention won’t do anything too off the wall, supporters say.
“For people to say, ‘They’re just going to rewrite the Constitution,’ I think that’s a bogus argument from everything I’ve seen,” DeMint said.
Elliott also thinks his legislative colleagues would not be quick to approve any changes that failed to meet a “very high threshold.”
“I mean, it took us four years to pass a moped bill,” he said.
‘Politics will follow the culture’
Changing the Constitution isn’t the only thing DeMint is working on after leaving office.
After his ouster as head of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, DeMint formed the Conservative Partnership Institute, a group that offers training and support to conservative congressmen, Capitol Hill staffers and other activists.
“I’m not going to give up on Washington,” DeMint said. “But if we spend all this time trying to elect conservative congressmen, we have to help them when they get there.”
Closer to home, DeMint also founded and is on the board of the Palmetto Promise Institute, a S.C.-based conservative think tank.
But DeMint insists that he hasn’t looked back since he quit his last elected office in 2012.
“You can achieve more from the outside,” DeMint said. “If you can develop the public support, then politics will follow the culture.”