Should the U.S. Constitution have stopped at 10 amendments?
A right-wing group striving to take over Seminole County Republican politics and running a Sarasota Senate candidate drew scrutiny over a seemingly exclusionary mission statement. Grassroots For America, an activist group seeking to influence its legislative influence in Tallahassee, makes clear on its website it likes some parts of the Constitution more than others.
“Our mission is to attract citizens who practice personal responsibility, good citizenship, follow the rule of law and who support the United States Constitution, as well as the ‘original’ Bill of Rights,” reads the About Us section.
The callout to the first 10 amendments of the constitution caught the eye of the editorial board for the Venice Gondolier.
“’Original’ means the first 10, excluding, among others, the ones that gave African Americans and women the right to vote,” an editorial reads.
Indeed, another 17 amendments were passed to the U.S. Constitution since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, and many contain rights and restrictions omitted by the Founding Fathers but nevertheless popular today. The 26th Amendment gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. The 22nd Amendment in 1951 limited Presidents to two terms. Only one, the 18th Amendment ratified in 1818 to prohibit alcohol, proved unpopular enough to be repealed with the 20th amendment in 1933.
But not one of those was part of the original Bill of Rights written by James Madison shortly after the adoption of the Constitution.
The Gondolier appeared to stumble across the language doing research on Michael Johnson, an activist who just moved to Sarasota to challenge state Sen. Joe Gruters. The editorial board endorsed Gruters in an Aug. 23 Republican Primary despite a list of concerns on votes he cast and cited Johnson’s connections to the far-right group among its reasons.
The organization’s mission statement up until that point went largely ignored, even as it has in the past year attempted a full mutiny of the Seminole County Republican Party.
Gruters, for his part, seemed startled by the language. “I think the entire constitution should be followed,” he said.
Neither Johnson nor Grassroots for America replied to inquiries about the organization’s mission statement.
Gruters also serves as chair of the Republican Party of Florida. That directly sparked Johnson, treasurer for GFA, to challenge him. Johnson was part of an attempt to take over the Seminole County Republican Executive Committee and force a special meeting to elect new officers. Existing leadership blocked that and filed a grievance with the state party, which sided with the sitting REC officers. Johnson has said that inspired him to move to Sarasota and challenge Gruters.
While GFA stirred friction in Seminole County, little attention appears to have been paid to the mission statement.
“I cannot speak for nonpartisan groups, but I will point out the Republican Party, from its inception in the days of Abraham Lincoln, has had the abolition of slavery, codified in the 13th Amendment, as a part of our party’s platform,” said Jesse Phillips, Seminole GOP state committee member. “I would hope a group dedicated to civic education would also support constitutional amendments establishing the Electoral College and women’s suffrage. The inability of Joe Gruters’ opponent to acknowledge basic tenants of our constitutional republic cast doubt on his ability to fulfill an oath to uphold the Constitution should he be elected.”
The rest of the GFA website voices a devotion to the Constitution — including offering a “Constitution Class” taught by a local history teacher — but it doesn’t enumerate what parts matter.
In one portion, the website states that “our constitutional rights have been drastically threatened,” and makes a commitment to contact all Florida sheriffs to see if they are “constitutional Sheriffs.” Its test for that seems to be whether sheriffs will take firearms from citizens or force them to have vaccinations.
But the exclusion of any part of the Constitution beyond the original Bill of Rights should unsettle voters, Gruters said.
“It should be a complete disqualification from office,” Gruters said. “If you don’t believe in all the protections of the Constitution, those type of views don’t belong in American politics today.”