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“IF WE DON’T DO SOMETHING, THE BILL IS GOING TO DIE”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Mar. 15, 2011) — The following is the conclusion of our interview with Rep. Mark Hatfield of Georgia regarding his proposed presidential eligibility bill, HB401.
REP. HATFIELD: As we were closing in on that time last week, we were looking at this deadline looming, and I continued to be told by the committee chair that he will not allow the bill to move.
I would like to say that when I last went to the clerk’s office and checked the bill last week, there had been 28 names that had been removed from the bill, but we still had 66 co-sponsors. What that means is that over one-third of the Georgia House members were still co-sponsors on this bill, which is very significant. You just don’t see that many signatures on most legislation. Even on very popular legislation, you might see 15 or 20; to have 66 signatures on a bill is very significant.
I got together with some of my co-sponsors and we discussed the situation. We were listening to some of the comments that had been made by various other representatives and also some of the things that were being said in the media as far as objections which representatives were saying they had to the bill. It always came back to the fact that they felt that we were directing this at one particular candidate, which would be Obama, and they had concerns about the dual citizenship and multiple citizenship language. There also were big concerns about the criminal penalty for a member of the Electoral College.
We put our heads together, and we were faced with a situation where essentially the leadership has locked down on this legislation and will not allow it to move. What that means is that it’s going to die come this Wednesday if something doesn’t happen. So I made an offer to the leadership and said, “Here we’ll agree, in order to try to move this bill, to move the effective date to July 1, 2013, and we’ll take out the language to which you object in the affidavit about the dual citizenship and multiple citizenship. We’ll take out the provision about the Electoral College members. Then will you allow this to pass as a a scaled-down version which still contains the provisions for the candidates to produce the documentation and to sign a bare-bones affidavit that they comply with Article II, Section 1 requirements.
Again, I want to stress that I’ve gotten phone calls and emails en masse from people on my own side of this issue criticizing me for having come up with this, but we’re trying to find a way to dislodge this bill from committee and have a chance for it to go forward, and so this proposal was made only in an effort to do that. I don’t want to see the bill become effective after the 2012 elections; I think that any and all candidates need to be subject to those requirements, and it’s not fair to exempt anybody from it if you believe, as I do that, this enforcement of the Constitution is important. The moving of the effective date is not what I want to see happen, but we’re not talking about a situation where I, as one vote in the House of Representatives, can come in, throw out a bill, and say “This is what we’re doing, whether you like it or not.” I have leadership here that’s fighting and keeping the bill from moving, and our only option is to find some way, some fallback positions to try to get them to let it go and then if it can be passed out of committee and then potentially come to the floor, it could potentially be amended there to change the effective date back. It could potentially pass out of the House and be amended in the Senate to change the effective date. That’s been the thinking all along; it was not that anybody wanted to see it pass with an effective date for 2013, but if we don’t do anything to try to reach some sort of acceptable compromise that will get the leadership to move the bill forward, I know it’s dead.
So that’s what we were facing, and that’s the proposal that was made, and it was rejected. The committee chairman told me that the best he was willing to do was “allow the issue to be studied over the summer,” or discussed in some form or fashion, but that’s certainly not acceptable to me, and I told him so. I felt then and feel now that the bill needs to move forward. So as far as I’m concerned, the leadership rejected any offer that we made to try to move the bill on terms that apparently had more teeth than what they wanted.
I will also say that that substitute bill that I had drawn up was never officially filed or offered in a committee; it was only drawn up as a proposed piece of substitute legislation. Since it was never offered in committee, it’s simply that: just a proposal. So the bill remains officially in its original form. That’s why it’s so frustrating for me that when I’m being criticized by people who should be supportive of what we’re trying to do, trying to explain this to them becomes somewhat difficult when they don’t take the initial opportunity to find out everything about the facts. That’s why I appreciate your giving me the opportunity to clarify this.
I understand that emotions on this issue are running high on all sides, and to be honest with you, it’s been a learning experience for me, because I don’t think I realized exactly how emotional the issue is. But it is, and I respect that, but at the same time, we’re dealing with a process here that, as you know, is different from anything that you can imagine. It’s a legislative process, and it’s a very difficult proposition to move a non-controversial bill through the legislature, much less a bill which has the controversy attached to it that this one does. We’re trying to find a way to move the bill through, but at this point in time, we know that the leadership has not agreed to any sort of compromise language, and the bill remains stuck in subcommittee. Our only hope, really, at this point in time, to get the bill to move, and for the bill not to die in committee for the year, is for the public to become engaged in this issue over the next two days and contact the leadership of the Georgia House of Representatives and demand that the bill be released from committee and allowed to come up for a vote on the floor.
MRS. RONDEAU: Why do you think this bill is necessary?
REP. HATFIELD: It’s necessary because we have the Article II, Section 1 requirements for the presidency, but there is no means of enforcement of those requirements that is currently in law. Congress has not seen fit to put any sort of enforcement mechanism in place, and I believe, and I think that legal authorities would agree with me as well, that while the qualifications are set out in the Constitution, the actual job of running the election and actually physically qualifying these candidates and making sure that they meet the eligibility requirements is the job of the state. In the absence of any action by Congress, I think the states have a duty to step up and provide a procedure by which we can qualify presidential and vice-presidential candidates and be assured that they meet the constitutional eligibility requirements.
MRS. RONDEAU: When we look back in history, there have been a couple of people who might not have qualified; for instance, Chester Arthur.
REP. HATFIELD: Exactly. I’ve done a lot of research into that. I think your site has some very good information on that. I’ve done a lot of legal research. I’m an attorney in my home town, and you have Chester Arthur who’s a prime example of someone who actually served as president and posthumously, there were many, many questions raised about his eligibility. I think an example even better than Chester Arthur is Charles Evans Hughes.
MRS. RONDEAU: I did a long story on that.
REP. HATFIELD: Yes, I read that, and that was, in fact, where I learned about it. I’ve done some subsequent research into that situation, and I think that Hughes’s situation is very much like that of Obama in that Hughes was born on American soil, which Obama claims to have been, but Hughes’s father was not at the time of his birth an American citizen. He was still a British subject. So that raises the issue of dual citizenship and multiple citizenship, and I think Breckinridge Long did us a great favor by writing the article that he did for the Chicago Law Journal and setting out all the issues which had arisen in regard to Hughes’s candidacy. Breckinridge Long subsequently went on to be Secretary of State, U.S. ambassador to Italy; he was an attorney. From what I’ve been able to tell, he was a scholarly sort of fellow. Our country’s history is littered with instances of candidates for the presidency who have had these issues raised. The travesty here is that over all these years, never have we put an end to these issues by coming up with a means of enforcement of Article II, Section 1.
That’s what we’re trying to do here: put that enforcement mechanism in place. A lot of people want to say, and I said on a recent radio show that this has been made into a big political thing about Obama. There’s no way to deny, and I don’t deny, that the bill would affect Obama if he were running for re-election, just as it would affect any other candidate for the presidency or vice-presidency. I don’t see anything wrong with that; I think that all candidates should be required to come forth and prove their eligibility.
It’s become a political football about the Obama presidency, but what I’m trying to point out that there are larger, underlying issues here than just the Obama presidency. We have issues which stretch back into the 1800s in this country which I think are significant when you consider that we’re living in a world today where terrorism is a major concern here in our country. We’re facing the possibility of the collapse of the dollar and economic catastrophe in our country. We certainly hope that doesn’t come to pass, but we are in some significantly serious times in our nation’s history. So it seems to me that at no time in my lifetime has there been a time when it has been more important to see that we have the right person at the head of this ship and that we have a person who is constitutionally eligible to hold office. I believe that the Framers of the Constitution felt very strongly about having a person serving in the presidency who does not have conflicting allegiances.
MRS. RONDEAU: They of course wanted to avoid somebody coming over from Europe and saying, “I’m going to be king,” particularly anyone from Great Britain, because we fought the War of Independence to free ourselves of that. We don’t even know if John McCain qualified as a “natural born Citizen.”
REP. HATFIELD: It’s interesting to note that Obama was part of a resolution which declared McCain to be eligible. That’s a really strange thing when you look at it on its face: that the Democrat party’s eventual candidate was making sure that the eventual Republican nominee was not going to have any questions raised about his eligibility. It just seems very convenience that it turned out that way. To me, it’s not a question of Democrat, Republican; black, white; male, female, or anything like that. It’s just a question of obeying the requirements of our Constitution.
As you know, there are so many times in our country when Congress will not take action on something that’s critical to the American people, and the states, by and large, feel that they need to pick up the ball and run with it in order to protect their citizens. I think this is just another example of that sort of an eventuality coming to pass.
MRS. RONDEAU: The Tenth Amendment says that whatever powers are not delegated to Congress are left to the states, or to the people.
REP. HATFIELD: Exactly.
MRS. RONDEAU: All of us need to be sovereigns of our individual states, and we need to take responsibility and ownership of our government so that we aren’t wondering if the person sitting in the White House is eligible to be there or has foreign allegiances.
REP. HATFIELD: When I introduced my bill last year, I was asked why I had done that, and one of the things I said, and I still subscribe to this notion, is that I don’t believe that any American citizen should ever have doubts about the qualifications of the person who occupies the highest office in the land. That should just not be a question that’s even up for debate; it should be something that we know for a fact, that all the constitutional requirements have been followed.
MRS. RONDEAU: Do you think if people were to get on email, phones and send faxes to the right people in the House, would that make a difference?
REP. HATFIELD: I think it potentially could. To be honest with you, I don’t know exactly what factors have come into play to cause this bill to be stopped. As I said before, nobody will share with me what the concerns are. Having said that, I do know that any time you’re dealing with elected political leaders, they have to be concerned when they start hearing from people who put them into office. I think that we’re really in a situation where we need to try to influence their thinking on this, and the way to do that is to get people on the phone and email, and if necessary, send in faxes, but communicating with these elected officials in the House leadership and letting them know that this is a priority for Georgia, and it’s a priority for the United States, and we don’t need to let this bill die.
I also want to point out that there are some other bills out there that could potentially be vehicles for an amendment to place this language from my bill into another bill and allow it to survive that way, and we could do that even after Wednesday if we got some cooperation from the leadership of the House or the Senate in order to allow that to happen. I think the best thing that we could do is pass this bill out, HB401, and let it go on into the Senate and let it have some free and public debate.
I’m encouraging anyone who is interested in this issue and believes, as I do, that it is an issue of critical national importance, to contact the leadership of the Georgia House. You can go on the Georgia General Assembly website, click on the link for House of Representatives, and then on the next page, you click on the link for “Leadership.” Click on that link, and it has the contact information for the members of the House leadership. Those are the people we need to be talking to. So I would urge everyone who really has concerns about the future of this legislation to please let their feelings be known.
MRS. RONDEAU: It would seem that the future of this legislation might determine the future of the country.
REP. HATFIELD: Exactly. I’m concerned because I see that similar legislation has been introduced in other states, but it seems that nothing is happening. In fact, I know a number of those bills in other states are already dead. In Georgia, we have a Republican majority in the House and the Senate, and we have a Republican governor. There’s absolutely no reason that we should not be passing this legislation this year. If we don’t do something, then the bill is going to die.
That’s why, going back to the proposed amendment, we were looking at the options, and the option was either we make some sort of proposal to try to move this thing or it’s going to die. And it’s not a question of what Mark Hatfield wants, because if we had what Mark Hatfield wants, I’d pass the bill in the original form. I put it out there that way, and I certainly wouldn’t have offered it that way if that wasn’t how I wanted it. So we’re going through a legislative process that involves 180 representatives, and many times, you have to compromise; you have to try to appease others in order to try to make a bill move forward. But in this situation, we know that the leadership just isn’t going to do anything unless they hear from the people of Georgia and the people of the United States saying, “We want this bill passed.”
Update, March 15, 2011, 6:19 p.m.: Rep. Hatfield sent the following statement by email just now: “We need to keep the pressure on, and I’m thinking that we need to be contacting senators as well now.”
Editor’s Note: An article written by a former U.S. military member supportive of HB 401 which raises a thought-provoking question in regard to all servicemen and women serving under Obama now can be read here.