Up until a few years ago, Lou Oberman counted himself among many in the country who are frustrated by the problems plaguing the federal government in Washington, but didn't think there was any way to change things for the better.
Then the Encinitas resident discovered the Convention of States project and became a convert. The group, which claims to have three million supporters across all 50 states, is working to bring about a national convention to discuss potential amendments to the U.S Constitution, in three areas: fiscal restraint; limits on the federal government's power and jurisdiction; and term limits for federal officials, including judges.
"A vast majority of people on both sides of the aisle agree there are issues that need attention and they've given up, they don't know how to do anything about it," said Oberman, 86, an ex-Marine, registered Republican and the retired former owner of a financial services firm.
In 2013. said Oberman, he learned of the Convention of States project, and its goal of calling a states' convention under the terms of Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution. The group, comprised mostly of volunteers, is working to get at least 34 states to pass a resolution in favor of the convention, the constitutional threshold.
The next step would be a debate by state-appointed commissioners to draft language for any proposed amendments, with 26 states needed for approval. The final step is ratification of amendments, which must be supported by 38 states in order to become part of the U.S. Constitution.
Along with term limits and reining in the federal government, said Oberman, the Convention of States group also wants an amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.
Oberman is a district captain for the group, representing California's 76th Assembly District. In that capacity, he has given some 70 talks to groups in Southern California, seeking support for the project.
Pressed for examples of why such a dramatic step as a states' convention is needed to amend the Constitution, Oberman cites scandals going back for decades under presidents from both parties. And he contends members of Congress serve far too long in office, and are under the influence of lobbyists for unions, corporations and other special interests.
"I'm doing this not for me, but for my kids and grandkids," said Oberman. "I don't like what's going on. I didn't know there was anything I could really do about it until four and a half years ago."
So far, he said, 12 states have passed resolutions, including Alaska, Arizona, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Efforts are underway to get California on board, he said, but he conceded, "California is going to be a tough state."
Oberman said the movement is nonpartisan, and he cites Democrats who support the project. But according to the national group's website, its leaders have ties to such groups as the Tea Party Patriots and the conservative Heritage Foundation.
One local supporter is Neil Campbell of Encinitas, a self-described conservative Democrat in the mold of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
Campbell contends that conservative voices have been ignored or silenced as the Democratic party has swung to the "far left."
"Part of the reason I'm for (the Convention of States project) as a Democrat is because there is significant corruption back in Washington, D.C. on both sides of the aisle," said Campbell, who writes a blog called "Angry Democrat."
Campbell said the government should not intervene in the affairs of citizens or private businesses, such as banning smoking in restaurants or the recent case of a Colorado baker who declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. Instead, he said free market forces should determine which businesses succeed or fail.
To Oberman, the greatest danger to American democracy isn't from an outside military threat, but rather our own scandals and internal divisions. But he remains optimistic that the Convention of States project will succeed.
"I believe it will happen because people are waking up to what is going on," he said.
For more information about the Convention of States project or to sign its petition, visit conventionofstates.com.