State Rep. Debra Hobbs, Republican of Paragould, failed to get her colleagues in the legislature to go along with her resolution telling the federal government to quit telling Arkansas what to do. Paul Barton talked to Hobbs and others and his bottom line: It's hard to ask Uncle Sam for a handout while you're telling him to back off.
Barton's story is on the jump.
Another look at sovereignty
By Paul Barton
WASHINGTON — When state Rep. Debbie Hobbs, R-Rogers, saw her resolution demanding that the federal government “cease and desist” from further encroaching on states’ rights under the 10th Amendment defeated in committee this week, she offered more proof that an economic downturn is not a time for bravado about states’ powers under the Constitution, political analysts say.
Hobbs’ bill was representative of the latest in a series of political movements making a lot of noise on the Internet but failing to get anywhere.
After President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package got signed into law, a number of prominent state officials around the country, led by South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, complained that the dollars would do little for job creation and a lot for the national debt. They also saw the bill as handing down more unfunded mandates to the states, further disrupting the balance of state and federal powers intended by the 10th Amendment.
But Norm Ornstein, an analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, noted in an interview this week that these same officials, including Sanford, now appear to be in no hurry to give back the money offered by the stimulus bill.
And as for complaints about encroachments on the 10th Amendment, Ornstein said, “If anything I think the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction.” He noted that during national emergencies, Americans tend to look in the direction of Washington, not away from it.
Hobbs said in a telephone interview that she still views herself as part of a growing number of Americans concerned about federal encroachment on the powers of the states. She was concerned even about Republican initiatives, including President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind education law.
Other issues that have worried her, she said, range from the “Real ID” driver’s license legislation to banking regulation and, most recently, speculation that the Democratic-majority Congress may reinstitute the “Fairness Doctrine,” which would make local radio and television stations seek ideological balance to popular conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh.
The Internet sites that keep track of state sovereignty movements note that resolutions similar to Hobbs’ have been introduced in more than two dozen general assemblies so far this year, although none has passed.
Oklahoma came close to passing one last year, with overwhelming support in the House, but the bill fell short in the state Senate.
Hobbs thought that given the similarities in the red-state political makeup of Oklahoma and Arkansas, the time was ripe for attempting passage in the latter as well.
The 10th Amendment says: “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.”
A popular Web site for state sovereignty concerns — and one that enthusiastically supports the idea — is tenthamendmentcenter.com. A more sober assessment is www.fontcraft.com/rod/?p=849, more commonly called “The Republic of Dave,” which says: “There’s a lot of excitement about these bills, but there are also a lot of misconceptions.” Those include suggestions that they are passing wherever introduced.
Hobbs said, “I see the federal government more and more becoming policy makers.” But she quickly added: “I do not believe we need to secede. I’m not calling for that.”
Hobbs said one of the hopes for her resolution was that it would send a message to Congress to start respecting the federalist system.
Most members of the Arkansas congressional delegation said they had heard little about the movement from their constituents. Rep. Mike Ross, a Democrat, was the only one of the six to comment.
“I am a firm believer in state sovereignty as guaranteed to us by the Tenth Amendment,” Ross said in a statement. “However, our state also depends on significant federal dollars for education, health care, agriculture, disaster recovery, and infrastructure development. As a member of Congress, I will work to secure these important investments for our state, while also fighting any law that encroaches upon the small town values we were raised on and still believe in.”