“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.”
You could call them the winds of change, propelling individual states to rise from the burnt ash of federal control, like Phoenix taking flight, and declare their sovereignty. But in actuality, they were just western gusts blowing in severe weather. By nightfall, the entire state would be dodging hail-coated tornadoes and change would still only be a campaign slogan.
I was heading to the state capitol in “The City”, our state nickname for Oklahoma City because saying “Oklahoma” while in Oklahoma seems redundant, and fighting with my steering wheel to stay on the road. Wind in the western part of the state is like riding a stallion with halitosis, you hold on and hold your breath. Dealing with politicians isn’t much different.
By the time I reached the Oklahoma State Capitol two hours later, I was wondering about the story that brought me here and two obnoxious questions: Would state government bite back against the federal government’s ramrod across clearly-drawn Constitutional lines of authority? Would my hair frizz from the humidity?
There’s something about a deluge of cologne that makes you feel like someone’s trying to hide a stink. That’s politics for you – ties, pantsuits, and posturing. Don’t misunderstand me. I have friends in politics, people I’ve known personally or worked with who serve with honesty and integrity. But put too many handshakes in too small a room and anyone can get turned around.
That can be and often is politics, which is why the founding fathers worked to keep it local, the main reason we have a Tenth Amendment. If you have a major problem, your state representative is reachable. Walk in, sit down, and talk to them. And if you can’t catch them in the building, you can grab them at the Rotary Chili Cook-off.
The federal government is an altogether different fairytale. It’s a dragon with innumerable heads and cutting one off only fertilizes two more. Reaching even your U.S. Congressman means going through a series of strategic roadblocks, often called assistants.
And besides, in the fisheye world of Washington, D.C., they aren’t facing disgruntled constituents over the pumping stations at Conoco or across the counter at Whole Foods. It’s called isolation. And we do the same for our federal government reps that we do for mentally ill citizens, padded room and all.
After half an hour and four flights of stairs trying to find a bathroom, I managed to orient myself inside the Oklahoma State Capitol which is essentially a labyrinth of open hallways and indigenous artwork structured socially like a small-town. Walking from floor to floor, shaking hands and exchanging smiles and business cards, I sensed the microcosmic atmosphere of any American Main Street where everyone knows everyone. And if you’re new, you’re eye candy.
Within a few hours, Rep. Charles Key and I were sitting comfortably at a round table with a slightly off-balanced leg in a conference room behind the Oklahoma House of Representatives floor. The Speaker of the House in the next room was rattling off scheduled shell bills like an auctioneer pushing through used cars. And I began quizzing the man helping to spur what is becoming a national movement or a series of fortunate events.
“The Constitution is very specific on what institutions have what rights and authority. The Federal government violated that structure and are out of their Constitutional law,” said Rep. Key, small in stature but big in patriotism. “The bill says to stop doing that. Get back into your Constitutional role.”
The hand-smack came in the form of a Tenth Amendment reaffirming resolution declaring state sovereignty, basically stating:
Dear Federal Government,
Remember the Tenth Amendment? You aren’t the boss of me. Now abide by it and back off.
Love, Oklahoma State Government
The Tenth Amendment isn’t as widely recognized as the First or Second or even Fifth, which we plead to save our own hides. The Tenth, however, is more like a polished stone – smooth to the sensibilities but unbreakable. Bite into it, and you’ll chip a tooth.
“There's a broad range of rights and powers that the 10th ‘protects’. But, most importantly, the primary role of this amendment was to affirm a strict limitation on the federal government,” said Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center. “The federal government, under our constitution, actually has very little power. The most important and the most difficult issues are left to the states - or to the people to handle in their local communities.”
Imagine a pyramid with your face at the top, along with the faces of the other 304 million American citizens. They all fit. It’s a big pyramid. Then come the layers of power from the state and local government. And at the very bottom, the heaviest but weakest, is the federal government.
The founding fathers established the Tenth out of experience. Escaping the slavery of taxation imposed by King George III in England, they knew unchecked federal government meant bloodletting for the little guy. So instead, they positioned state government over the windpipe of the federal government, ready to cut off their flow of oxygen if they breathed too deeply.
In recent years crescendoing in Obama's days, the federal government has been hyperventilating.
“As I saw the Constitution violated and the structure fall apart, it became a real concern for me,” said Key, running onto the floor to cast a vote and back to our wobbly table for more questioning. “Something will take it’s place if it keeps going where we’re going and history tells us it will not be good.”
What history will say so far might have too much profanity for the classroom textbooks. As private sector businesses go through a genocide of government bailouts, what once was a ‘hands off’ zone for those CK1 spritzed politicians is now an open cookie jar with their hand inside. The federal government sends money, then sends demands. It’s taken only weeks before the President of the United States is holding press conferences about why he fired the CEO of GM, while private citizens return their company bonuses in fear of 90 percent taxation. Times are good and days are bright for Constitutionally ignorant micro-managers on the government payroll.
States, either from years of being stepped on or recent violations through the stimulus, have been reclaiming the battle cry of the Tenth Amendment and filing state sovereignty resolutions to remind the federal government who is the parent and who is the child. To date, 33 states have filed resolutions with more expected.
“Much of the economic trouble we are seeing today was brought on by a federal government that didn't respect or follow the limits on its power that were created by the Constitution,” Boldin said. “For many years, people in this country have allowed the politicians to ‘bend the rules’ of the constitution - ostensibly for good reasons. But, when that happens for any continued period of time, eventually you'll end up with a government that feels the rules don't apply at all. It's my opinion that we're near or at that position today.”
The resolutions, so far, are warning signs, like a guard dog’s bark. But should the federal government insist on scaling the fence into private property, Key said the next step will be action from the participating states. On that note, he couldn’t comment further.
“The federal government has violated the Constitution so much, they probably need to be told twice,” said Key.
Right now the states are focused on breeding the dog. The bite comes next.