With elections signs all around it might be well to be reminded that it is unrealistic to expect national candidates to follow the Constitution when we did not insist that they did so in state, county and city offices. After all, many simply move up to higher office. Some may even view the Constitution as irrelevant at these levels.
Several years ago in California at a public debate for county supervisor 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 are you going to give me and is it more than your opponent?
So what does the Constitution have to do with local or state issues? Everything!! First, it is the only document that every single elected public servant swears 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 at any level of government. 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 again, why does this matter? Historically, the two enemies of freedom are: 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 most of 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 to both restrict them and to prohibit the concentration of power into one branch. The only type of federal government authorized by the Founders was decidedly a limited one. States, counties, and cities have all the powers not listed, as per Amendment 10.
When these limitations are not understood and protected at lower levels of government, 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 constitutionally 100% non federal government issues. States, counties, and cities 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, 2012, both states and counties should have written Congress and the President. “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.”
It comes to this. Sixty years ago it may not have made much difference if a county supervisor/commissioner, or city councilman, swore allegiance to a Constitution that he had not fully studied, or worse, even read. The federal government had not yet absorbed his area of jurisdiction. Now it has! There is hardly an area where the federal government does not have its tentacles imbedded, from school lunches to cross gender bathrooms. Over thirty years ago a city councilman complained to me that a third of what he voted on was already mandated because sometime in the past the council had accepted the “free money” which now obligated him. School districts are notorious for having done the same thing.
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. Consequently you have lost a large portion of our liberty. Today your understanding of the document must be known BEFORE we place you in power.
This election let us find leaders with Constitutional fire in their bellies to undo the precedents that their predecessors created. All issues on the city and county
level are directly or indirectly constitutional issues. We now expect leaders to know, and abide by, the document that they swear to uphold.
Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College.