At the national governors’ meeting, a common cry
Date published: 8/9/2006
States vs. feds

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

–10th Amendment, U.S. Constitution

THINK THE BATTLE OVER states’ rights is over? Not so: At the National Governors Association summer meeting in Charleston, S.C., Democrats and Republicans alike are lashing out at the federal government for its intrusion into issues formerly within the purview of the states and its incompetence in dealing with national problems. Somewhere, John C. Calhoun is grinning.

Calhoun, of course, was the U.S. senator from South Carolina who, in the 1830s, engaged in fiery debates with fellow solon Daniel Webster over states rights. Calhoun devised the theory (earlier held by Thomas Jefferson) that a state could declare null and void any federal law it deemed unconstitutional. Given the chance, today’s governors would feast on that freedom.

From deregulation of cable-TV programming to deployment of the National Guard, governors are ticked off. Washington, they say, is usurping state laws. For example, the House recently passed a defense-spending authorization bill that contains a provision allowing the president to mobilize the National Guard without so much as a by-your-leave to governors. The Guard has provided almost half the troops deployed in Iraq; increasing the president’s ability to tap the Guard for overseas operations leaves states more vulnerable in case of natural disasters, governors assert.

And what about drivers licenses? The 2005 REAL ID act gives the federal government the right to tell states how to issue drivers licenses and requires states to check for valid citizenship of applicants. But while the feds are laying this burden on states, Congress is abdicating its larger duty to control the influx of illegal aliens over the borders. Immigration bills passed by each house are languishing because congressional leaders refuse to call a conference committee to resolve their differences.

Health care. Gasoline prices. Medicaid costs. The list of federal failures and deferments goes on. "Whatever problem you’re concerned about, all you see in Washington is gridlock," says outgoing NGA president, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican. "They’re just not getting it done," adds incoming president, Democrat Janet Napolitano of Arizona.

It’s of some consolation that, at least on the issue of congressional malpractice, Democrats and Republicans are in accord. The question remains, will their cry resonate with voters in the upcoming elections?

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