IT ONLY TOOK 202 YEARS, BUT LAST WEEK United States Archivist Don Wilson officially certified that the U.S. Constitution has a new amendment. Given the current hostility to Congress, the new measure captured the mood of a fed-up electorate. It prevents Congress from giving itself pay raises retroactively or in midterm, which it has done from time to time. Despite the new amendment's popularity, it would probably never have become law if 30-year-old Gregory Watson, an obscure administrative assistant to a Texas state legislator, had been a less persistent man. Ten years ago, while a student at the University of Texas-Austin, he began a one-man campaign to enact the Twenty-seventh Amendment. His reason? He got a C on a term paper.
The paper, for a government class, argued that the amendment could—and should—be passed. At the time, the proposal, originally drafted by James Madison in 1789, had been ratified by only eight states, six of them during the 18th century. Watson says his professor felt the amendment was a legal dead letter, even though if had no time limit, and gave him the low mark. "I was very disgusted," he says, "but undaunted."
He ran his campaign the old-fashion way—by mail, writing to legislators in states that had yet to pass the amendment. He spent $6,000—all of it his own money. He refused all outside help. "I wanted to do it by myself," he says. "I wanted to prove that one person could do it alone
Prove it, he did. On May 7, Michigan became the 38th—and deciding—state to OK the amendment, which had to be ratified by three-quarters of the states in order to take effect. Later that same day New Jersey voted its approval, and on May 12, Illinois joined in. Watson, who is single, was jubilant. "I wanted to show the American people what can be done if they just put forth a little elbow grease," he says. "You can wield a great deal of power, and one person can still make a difference in this country."
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.