Archive for April, 2010

Representative or Rogue?

Earlier this month, I concluded a column by suggesting that a constitutional amendment convention may be a way out of the mess many perceive we’re in. What mess? The kind Pew Research Center poll respondents had in mind when only 22% expressed significant trust in their government. This figure is an historic low.

Distrust of power is somewhat sewed into the American DNA. Still, our government is structured to minimize the need for such distrust. We are, after all, We the People. We govern ourselves. To distrust the government is to distrust me (a difficult, though not altogether impossible, proposition).

So how did Madison, Hamilton, Mason and the boys handle the prospect of a corrupt and/or unresponsive Congress? Article V of the Constitution and, more specifically, individual states’ rights to modify the nation’s foundational document. Ahhh, the division of powers beautifully described by the Constitution’s father, James Madison:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite…The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

And so they included a way for the states to initiate amendments to the Constitution: 2/3 of their legislatures could petition Congress for a convention which Congress is then compelled to call. 

This approach has never been used to its completion, though twice in the last 40 years we have come within one state legislature’s approval of the necessary threshold.

In the 1960s, 33 states petitioned for a convention on the topic of reapportionment (the Supreme Court’s requirement that each state’s congressional and legislative districts had to be roughly similar in population). In the 1970s and 80s, 33 states again petitioned for a constitutional amendment convention, this time to attempt to enact a balanced budget amendment.

According to the non-profit Friends of the Article V Convention, more than 700 applications have been filed by state legislatures over the years. All 50 states have filed them at one time or another. 

However, Congress has never interpreted the language of Article V broadly enough to call a convention in response to those petitions. And why would it? Such a convention would certainly craft an amendment(s) that would take power from its hands.

James Rogers in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy cites a 2005 national Harris Interactive survey that highlighted the most popular concepts for a constitutional amendment. Most of the them would limit Congress’ reach (e.g., balanced budget, Congressional term limits, no federal unfunded mandates, etc.). 

Undoubtedly, the logistical realities of a constitutional amendment convention are left vague in the original document. Perhaps the first such amendment ratified should clarify the process by which states can exert their influence. Or perhaps we follow the 1787 model and pioneer our own way. Regardless, what’s most important is that the states and their citizens be heard.

Then we’ll know once and for all if expansive federal government growth has the stamp of the American people or if a rogue Congress needs reining in.

Chief of Chaff

A proverb says you can judge a man by the company he keeps. President Obama keeps no closer company than White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
The former four-term Congressman from Illinois’ 5th District in Chicago not only serves as Mr. Obama’s hands and feet, he also has his ear. The more I hear about him, the scarier that fact becomes.
CBS News’ Katie Couric interviewed Mr. Emanuel on a recent 60 Minutes. As one might imagine, she was hardly adversarial; you could nearly see admiration in her eyes. Still, she revealed characteristics of Mr. Emanuel hardly becoming of his Jewish faith or the distinguished institution he serves: the Presidency of the United States.
Ms. Couric highlighted Mr. Emanuel’s profanity-laced temper, his propensity for revenge and his win-at-all-cost persona. She also laughed them off the way a doormat mother dismisses a misbehaving delinquent.

She asked about his workaholism, which he seemed to wear as a badge of honor (“Friday means two more workdays to Monday”). Not exactly remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.

She asked about his three children and when he sees them. Answer: In the 5 a.m. hour if they choose to lap swim with him at the gym. Not quite the fulfillment of “impress [the commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Unsurprisingly, Couric did not ask Emanuel about the D.C. condo he lived in rent-free for five years without reporting the value as a campaign contribution or as income. (The condo is owned by a Democrat pollster his campaign contracted with.)

Neither did she quiz him on his failure to recognize fraud as a Freddie Mac board member, missteps that could have mitigated the housing meltdown.
His reward for such negligence: $260,000 in income for two years of part-time work and a $25,000 campaign contribution, the largest donation the troubled agency’s PAC gave to any House candidate in 2002.

Add to these question marks Mr. Emanuel’s tenacious desire to expand government (he warned Democrats early last year not to let “a crisis go to waste”) and to spread liberalism (as a congressman, he got a legislative “F” from the NRA and was 100% pro-abortion), and you get a dangerous concoction.

Last year’s gargantuan “stimulus” bill (wilily designed to stimulate less in the near-term – only a fraction of the funds have been spent to date – and then to expand liberal spending significantly over time), this year’s Obamacare bill and an upcoming “green” energy bill all have his fingerprints on them.

How has he and how will he get these bills through Congress? By any way necessary. As he told Ms. Couric, “The process does not trump the product.” In other words, the end justifies the means. Scary.

His name is Emanuel, but he is not exactly “God with us.” He is the president’s right hand man.

Kendall County: Republican from the Start

As our beloved county prepares to rededicate its restored historic courthouse tomorrow at 1 p.m., how about some county political history?

It would be some remote hermit who couldn’t tell you that modern day Kendall County is a bastion of Republican values. A vast majority of our residents bleed red.

Most people probably assume that this trend is no more than a few decades old, a mere product of white flight, improved transportation, economic growth and suburbia’s rise.

Surely the county’s agrarian roots dug deep into Democrat soil. After all, the south was as dependably Democrat throughout most of the 20th century as it is reliably Republican today. Tread cautiously with your assumptions. Massachusetts did just vote in a conservative U.S. Senator.

Enter the freethinking German immigrants who settled this area in the 1840s and 1850s. They had no allegiance to the Deep South. They did not assimilate with the slaveholding plantation owners in east and southeast Texas. Seceding from their newfound nation made about as much sense as returning to Europe.

So, when Union-supporting Texas Governor Sam Houston forced a public referendum on secession in 1861, Kerr County Precinct 2 (the area which became Kendall County in 1862) opposed the idea 53-34. The anti-slavery “Hill Country Unionists,” as they were called, didn’t just speak with their votes, they also fought with their lives.

The Kendall Countians battled a Confederate brigade at the Battle of Nueces in August 1862. Nineteen died that day and were buried in a common grave at Third and Main Streets in Comfort. The “Treue der Union” monument still honors the gravesite. Outside of national cemeteries, it is the only Union memorial erected in Confederate territory.

It follows that Kendall County would support the Republican-led Reconstruction government in Texas. Residents voted for Republican Governor Edmund Davis by a margin of 2 to 1 in 1869, and by a margin of 3 to 1 in 1873.

Since 1872, Kendall County has voted Republican in every presidential election except two. One was in 1912 when the county voted for Teddy Roosevelt (previously a Republican) and his short-lived Bull Moose Party. (The other was a Depression-era vote for FDR in 1932.) That’s more than 135 years of Kendall County Republicanism.

Tomorrow, as we dedicate the restoration of Texas’ oldest continuously operating county courthouse to its 1909 vintage, all of us will celebrate our Kendall County heritage. And most of us will celebrate our distinctly Republican heritage.

(Source of historical facts: Texas State Historical Association)

Overcoming Tone-deafness

You’ve seen them: the Secede bumper stickers backdropped by an image of the Texas flag. Though even the governor has touted the secession concept on the stump to connect with his base, few Texans actually envision us getting to that point.

Like Sam Houston, most Texas Republicans see the high value of life in the Union. We admire the commitment of our party’s father (Abraham Lincoln) to keep the Union together during its darkest hour decades ago.

However, the intimation does reveal a swing of the pendulum along the spectrum of federal power versus states’ rights.

John Adams described the great debate this way in June 1776:

“Yesterday the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America; and a greater perhaps never was, nor will be, decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, that those United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.”

And the Trinity-like paradox began: independent yet united; separate but together; individual states and, all the while, a nation.

During and after the American Revolution, the inadequate Articles of Confederation failed to strike the right balance. A central government needs authority to raise armies and funds, pay debts, print currency, create a framework for national commerce, etc. The Articles provided none. They were too heavily weighted toward states’ rights.

Called by Adams “the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen,” the United States Constitution brought a balance. Among the many checks provided therein, the document declares two ways to amend itself.

Constitutional amendments can come from either: (1) Congress itself or (2) the states, if two-thirds of the state legislatures approve. (All proposed amendments must then be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures or conventions.)

In the two centuries since its creation, no amendment has come forth by the latter method, i.e., from the states. Some think deploying the mechanism is long overdue, especially given the tone-deafness of the current Congress.

This week, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst floated the idea of states passing a federal constitutional amendment requiring the federal government to balance its budget. Most states have such a provision in their charters. Dewhurst thinks D.C. needs one.

States also issue debt in “broad daylight,” that is, with clear legislative and/or voter approval and with a stated revenue stream to repay the debt.

Dewhurst’s constitutional amendment could require similar transparency on federal debt issues, thereby prompting restraint before China and our other global lenders force it on us.

The point is that since Congress (and the courts, for that matter) have muscled through policy changes that don’t jive with the broad populations of the states, the states (i.e., the people) have a way to wrestle back control.

It won’t be easy. There’s a reason why it’s never been done. But thanks to some foresighted framers, it is still possible.

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