AUGUSTA, Maine — Calling a constitutional convention to transfer power from the federal government to the nation’s legislatures will be up to other U.S. states after an attempt to include Maine died Tuesday in a 86-56 vote of the Maine House.

The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, called for the imposition of new fiscal restraints at the federal level and limiting the power of Congress. Such measures are typically proposed by Republicans.

“I’m probably the only Democrat who voted for it or went along with it, but the reason is I’m a firm believer that states should become more proactively involved with what’s going on in Washington,” said Stanley. “This is a way for the states to take more control of what’s going on with the constitution.”

A full two-thirds of states — or 34 — would have to enact similar resolves for the formation of a constitutional convention, at which some constitutional scholars argue virtually any amendment to the U.S. Constitution could be proposed. Any amendments proposed and approved at the convention would have to be ratified in at least three-quarters of states, or 38.

The resolution proposed by Stanley is similar to one advocated for by a national group called Citizens for Self-Governance. To date, only a dozen states have applied for the convention.

During House debate on Tuesday, Rep. Christopher Babbidge, D-Kennebunk, argued among other things that a convention could put the entire constitution at risk.

“Do we have the trust to allow a new convention to tinker with the greatest document ever devised by the mind of man?” asked Babbidge. “I think not.”

Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, said Tuesday’s vote was an early part of an extremely rigorous process.

“The Article 5 convention of the states is the beginning of the process in which state legislatures can raise certain constitutional power and become the kind of checks and balances on the founding document that the founders originally wanted,” said Cebra. “Anyone who pays attention understands that the federal government is out of control.”

The resolution faces more votes in the Legislature but is all but dead following Tuesday’s action in the House. That doesn’t deter Stanley.

“It’s just a matter of time before it happens,” he said. “It might not be the most popular thing to do but it’s the right thing.”

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.