Several years ago, at a public debate for county supervisor in a California community, the public was invited to offer questions in writing. I did so and watched the monitor of the debate, with a puzzled look on his face, sideline my question in preference to others.
I presumed it was because it had something to do with the Constitution, which, unfortunately, is considered by many an irrelevant topic at the city, county, or even state level. You are supposed to ask what “goodies” from taxpayer funding can you give to me and, is it more than your opponent. The other evening, at a similar debate, I experienced a more receptive response; at least my question was asked.
So what does the Constitution have to do with local or state issues a friend later asked? Everything!! First, it is the only document that every single elected public servant swore to uphold. So the Founders must have thought it relevant at every level.
Second, candidates at lower levels successfully rise to higher levels because of the name recognition obtained at lower levels and eventually become members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, often without ever having read the Constitution they are specifically under oath to protect. When I worked as a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate some years ago, I was certain at least 50% had never read it. Today I would be surprised if those who had read it exceeded 10%. But no one asks candidates, even while campaigning at the highest levels, when they last read it.
So tell me again why it matters? Historically, the two enemies of freedom have been, and always will be, 1) it is the nature of all governments to pull decision making power upward to the seat of government and 2) the more apathetic and indifferent the population becomes, the greater the tendency of the people to push decision making power upwards to the seat of government. When these two forces work together, it always leads to the central government eventually having all the power. The Constitution is full of “handcuffs” to keep decision-making power from getting to the top thus maximizing it with the individual. The Founders overriding philosophy of government, if it could be penned into one sentence, was, “never elevate to a higher level that which can be resolved at a lesser level.”
Even a casual look at the Constitution reveals the separation of powers on the federal level into three distinct branches the legislative, executive, and judicial—each with a specific list: for Congress it was a list of the four types of law they could make (Art. I, Sec. 8), for the president it was the types of executive functions he could execute (Art. II, Sec. 2-3), and for the Supreme Court the types of cases it could adjudicate (Art. III, Sec. 2). The lists exist so that they do not have all power in each area. The only type of federal government authorized by the Founders was decidedly a limited one. What is not emphasized, and should be, from the state, county and city perspective is that all other powers not specified belong to the states and the people as per Amendment 10.
When these limitations are not understood, the federal government is constantly tempted to steal authority from the states or counties as per its confiscating environmental, health, and education issues, which are 100%, state issues. States should use the Tenth Amendment to tell the federal government to “butt out.” “You have no Constitutional authority.” When Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the National Defense Authorization Act, December 31, both states and counties should have written Congress. “You do not have the right to void Amendments 4, 5, 6, and 8, of The Bill of Rights and the Writ of Habeas Corpus for our citizens. The military shall not arrest any of our citizens.” When President Barack Obama issued an executive order March 16 authorizing himself to declare “martial law” without any authorization from any other government, states and counties should in unison have said “not in our areas of jurisdiction without our say so! Sir! The Constitution gives you no such authority.”
City, county, and state leaders, you are our buffer from the federal government taking from you your areas of jurisdiction. They have done so for many years because you were complacent in it, or, ignorant of the Constitution. You have placed us in the position that your understanding of the document must be known before we place you in power. Our only hope now is to find leaders with Constitutional fire in their bellies to undo the precedents that you have created. All issues on the city and county level are directly or indirectly Constitutional issues. We expect you to know, and abide by, the document that you swore to uphold.