When we first set out to form the Federalist Party, one of the primary tenets was to change the way the system itself operates. It’s natural for people looking at the political atmosphere in America to gravitate towards the issues. After all, they’re juicy. Compared to the processes behind the establishment of laws, the actual effects of laws themselves draw more excitement and/or anger from those affected.
Who cares about how the laws are made? Most are simply concerned with what the laws actually do.
As Federalists, we have to look as closely into the “how” as we do with the “what” that pertains to laws. In fact, the long-term solutions all have to do with returning to the checks and balances between the state and federal governments. Some effort must be put into correcting government overreach immediately, of course, but if we don’t establish a proper scenario for keeping the right laws and removing the poor ones, any solution we or anyone else initiates will be temporary.
LaVarr Webb, publisher of UtahPolicy.com, developed some principles and guidelines to bear in mind when attempting to reestablish Federalism in the United States. A few of them can be debated for nuances, but overall this is an extremely sound starting point for building Federalist principles that are required to bring America back from the brink of disaster:
- Balanced federalism should not be a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. It’s not a conservative issue or a liberal issue. It has to do with balance in the federal system. It is about states having a co-equal place in the federal system with structural tools to push back against the federal government when a consensus among states exists to do so. While conservatives have been most vocal about federalism, today liberals and Democrats are concerned that the federal government will interfere with state marijuana laws and sanctuary cities, among other things.
- The federalism discussion should be focused at the procedural, structural level, rather than on specific, current issues. No one is smart enough to sort out exactly the roles of the federal and state governments. No one knows precisely just where the lines should be drawn. Once an improved balance exists, through structural reform, then the playing field will be level and push and pull will occur on specific issues. Once states will have a stronger structural voice in the federal system, a natural balance will be restored.
- The fundamental problem with federalism isn’t that the federal government is aggressive in using its power. That’s the natural thing for any branch or level of government to do. Madison wrote that in federal-state relations, “ambition will counteract ambition” in the give and take of public policy development. The truly fundamental problem with federalism is that states have no tools with which to push back. Every tool granted to states by the Founders has been lost. Thus, it’s not a fair fight. The states are left with no protection. Rather than engaging in peer-to-peer negotiations, states are in a master-servant relationship with the federal government.
- Tools states once had to compete in the federal system have been lost over many decades in court decisions that emasculated the 10th Amendment, and through the 17th Amendment eliminating the responsibility of legislatures to select U.S. senators. Obviously, no one will seriously propose that the direct election of senators be rescinded, but losing that tool was an enormous blow to the power of states in the federal system.
- Those tools need to be replaced with new tools giving states a larger role in the federal system. Two suggestions that have been the subject of a great deal of scholarly study are: 1. Making it practical for states to propose constitutional amendments (as the Founders intended); and 2. Giving a supermajority of states the ability to overturn a federal statute or regulation, or require Congress to reconsider a statute.
- If states had these tools, nothing would change overnight. But, over time, states would reassert themselves as significant players in the federal system.
- It is fair to point out that at times in history states have not always responded as they should have to serious societal needs, so the federal government stepped in. But times and society have changed. State and local governments have become modernized, professionalized and competent. They are ready to rise to the challenges of the Knowledge Age.
- Balanced federalism is needed not for partisan or ideological reasons, but because it is the best governance model in the Knowledge Age. States today can operate like intelligent, networked PCs on the Internet, while the federal government operates like an old-fashioned mainframe computer. States can collaborate, act quickly, and learn “best practices,” resulting in an upward spiral in competency, improved management and delivery of services. With freedom to innovate, we will see breakthroughs in many areas of government. Such innovation, creativity and energy will never be spawned by the top-down, mainframe approach of Washington.
- State legislators need to understand, need to be empowered with the knowledge, that they are uniquely positioned to restore balance in the federal system. They are constitutional officers in the federal system, with the power to initiate amendment conventions and ratify proposed amendments. Other than Congress (which will never act to empower states), state legislators are the only ones with constitutional status to act. Governors can’t do it. Local leaders can’t do it. Only state legislators can do it.
- The time has come for state legislative leaders to put together a plan to restore a proper balance in the federal system.
Until the federal government is reined in, we will not be able to properly function as a thriving nation. There were reasons in the past that the government felt a need to give primacy to the national government over the states such as slavery and civil rights, but those reasons are no longer valid. It’s time to return to a 10th Amendment understanding of proper American governance. If we don’t, all of our rights and freedoms will be brought up for debate at some point in the near future.
Read more: UtahPolicy.com
Image credit: Constitution Center