Valley News -

By Harold Pease Ph.D.
Special to Valley News 

Is the Constitution relevant in local and state elections?

 

Last updated 5/17/2018 at 9:26am



With election signs everywhere, it is well to note that it is unrealistic to expect national candidates to follow the Constitution when voters did not insist that they did so in local and state elections. After all, many simply move up to higher office. Some may even view the Constitution as irrelevant at these levels.

Several years ago, at a public debate for county supervisor in California, the public was invited to offer written questions. I did so and watched the debate monitor, with a puzzled look on his face, sideline my question in preference to others. I presumed it was because it raised a constitutional concern, which unfortunately is considered by many an irrelevant topic at the city, county or even state levels. Voters are supposed to ask what “goodies” from taxpayer funding are they going to give their constituents and is it more than their opponent?

So, what does the Constitution have to do with local or state issues? Everything. First, it is the only document that every elected public servant swears by oath to uphold. So, the Founders must have thought it relevant at lower levels.

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 years ago, I was certain at least 50 percent had never read it at any level of government. Today I would be surprised if those who had read it exceeded 10 percent. No one asks candidates while campaigning when they last read it.

So again, why does this matter? Historically, the two major enemies of freedom are first that it is the nature of all governments to pull decision-making power upward to the seat of government and second that the more apathetic and indifferent the population becomes the greater the tendency of the people to push decision-making power upward 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, the executive and the judicial. Each had a specific list. For Congress, it was a list of the four types of law they could make, according to Article I, Section 8. For the president, it was the types of executive functions he could execute, according to Article II, Sections 2-3 and for the Supreme Court, the types of cases it could adjudicate are listed in Article III, Section 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 percent nonfederal government issues. States, counties and cities should use the 10th Amendment to tell the federal government to “butt out.” It has no constitutional authority in those matters. When Congress passed, and the president signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, Dec. 31, 2012, both states and counties should have written Congress and the president to say, “You may not void Amendments 4, 5, 6 and 8, of The Bill of Rights and the Writ of Habeas Corpus for our citizens.”

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 embedded, from school lunches to cross-gender bathrooms. Over 30 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 are the buffer from the federal government, but they have taken away the local leaders’ areas of jurisdiction. The federal government has done so for many years because local leaders were complacent or ignorant of the Constitution. Consequently, they have lost a large portion of the citizen’s liberty. Today their understanding of the document must be known before voters place them in power.

This election voters must find leaders with constitutional fire in their bellies to undo the precedents that their predecessors created. All issues on the city and county levels are directly or indirectly constitutional issues. Citizens must now expect leaders to know, and abide by, the document that they swear to uphold.

Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and to applying that knowledge to current events. He taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. Newspapers have permission to publish this column. To read more of his weekly articles, visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.

 

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