The battle for state rights
Name five senators at the federal level. Not too difficult, right? Now name five state senators, or five members of any state legislature. Find that a little more difficult?
The federal government’s role in our lives has increased to an unbelievable extent, so it’s logical to care about what it does and doesn’t do. But things weren’t always this way.
Since the Civil War, states’ rights have constantly been under attack. There’s the “power of the purse,” which refers to the domineering relationship between the federal and state governments. I am referring to the Appropriations Committee within Congress that creates federal expenditures funded through taxpayer money.
For example, according to the Brookings Institution, each state received on average 37 percent of their general revenue from intergovernmental grants in 2010. If the federal government provides each state with over a quarter of their income and can designate where the money is spent, it can also shut down a state’s revenue stream, should the state refuse to act in accordance with Washington politics.
Therefore, the state cannot have its own identity and becomes subjugated to the whims of its overblown, federal father-government. How can a state fight for what it justly needs when the federal government can cut or refuse to allocate funds?
The ratification of the 17th Amendment also intensified the stranglehold that the federal government had over states. Citizens of each state – citizens who don't necessarily know the immediate fiscal needs of their state – were given authority to elect federal senators.
After ratification, senators became dependent on votes from citizens. It invented a new role for the federal senator, one which focuses less on the needs of states as existing entities and more on buying votes and appealing to the specific needs of individual citizens. Federal senators, whose duty is to look out for states, began to neglect states needs.
The amendment also reduced the influence of state legislatures. Our Constitution intentionally left senator appointments to state legislators, an elected body of educated citizens, to regularly appoint senators to petition Congress for the needs of the state. Instead of representing state legislatures, senators now represent the people of their state within Washington, people who don't necessarily share the responsibility of creating budgets and carefully holding a senator accountable on a consistent basis.
Can the shrinking power of each state be considered a good thing?
Because politics is most efficient at the local level, the answer is an unequivocal no. Instead of climbing the federal ladder of bureaucracy that represents our government at the national level, why not campaign, enact, and address bi-partisan issues more directly at a local level?
If you believe that each state has different strengths and weaknesses, different aspirations and accomplishments, and different citizens and cultures, then you must stand up for the rights of your state. This shift in power in American politics threatens the sanctity of each individual state. It's your political duty under our democracy to call attention, by any means possible, to the rise in federal power at your state's expense.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the columnist @sean_mccauley.