All politics are local--or perhaps should be

Friday, September 27, 2013

All politics are local--or perhaps should be

On my third September trip up to Indianapolis this past week, I had a few minutes and decided to stop by and visit with a local mayor in House District 64. We discussed various happenings, but neither one of us had a burning issue that precipitated a meeting or was in urgent need of resolution. As I was leaving, it occurred to me that this was a really good thing and the way it ought to be.

You might at this point be thinking that I think this is “good” because this mayor and I are so in tune with each other that we have all our issues dealt with because we communicate so well and are like-minded, making in-face meetings unnecessary. I suppose that could be a desirable goal, but the truth is that this particular mayor and I are not of the same political party, and, while we have met on occasion, we really do not know each other well at all. The reason I think it is good that a mayor and state representative have few issues to discuss in a September far removed from the General Assembly’s session is because each of us are keeping to our own spheres of authority, and that is precisely what our nation’s founders intended.

It may seem elementary to many of us that we have several levels of government in America, but I can tell you from experience that a good many of our fellow patriots either never learned the concept or have forgotten it. Indeed, one of the leading “issues” in my office this summer was referring calls over to the Congressman’s office as they pertained to issues that the State Legislature does not deal with.

Before we criticize those who confuse what issues are to be dealt with by a mayor, by a county commissioner, by the State Legislature, the Governor or even the President, we really should pause and consider that their confusion could be well-founded. Over the last hundred years or so, we have seen tremendous shifts that muddy the water when trying to observe what level of government is doing what. This shift often leaves us shaking our heads as we chart a course through the murk of government. It is no wonder that my office receives so many misplaced calls.

Our founders, however, envisioned a tiered government authority. They had seen first-hand what happens when power is consolidated anywhere, and sought to diversify. First, and most importantly, the federal central government was to focus on matters of national importance. Its powers were to be limited to these issues by Article I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution. However, the states weren’t satisfied and required the Constitution’s 10th Amendment as a condition of ratifying our Constitution. The 10th Amendment specifically reserved the powers not given to the federal government to the states or the people. In turn, the States were to take on regional issues. Finally, the counties and cities were to shoulder the bulk of the issues that affect local people the most.

This made total sense. I think our founders understood that someone in Washington, D.C. could be way out of touch with someone in Haubstadt. However, over time, our federal government has wormed its way into nearly every aspect of American life. To hide its progress, the federal government has taken to jamming federal programs down to the people by having the states administer the programs under taxation blackmail: if a state refuses to take on a federal program, its citizens lose out on the taxes they are paying to the federal government.

We must be diligent to keep our local issues local. We have mayors, county commissioners, school boards and other local public offices for very good reason. The best way to keep government in check is to keep it as local as possible.

So, when I can sit down with a local mayor and find that we do not have big issues to discuss, I take some satisfaction that at least in Indiana, perhaps we are still recognizing that various levels of government have specified functions, and that inappropriately mixing the two, while it may get you votes in the short-term, is not good for the country in the long-term.

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State Rep. Tom Washburne serves as Vice Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He also serves on the Financial Institutions Committee and the Select Committee on Government Reduction. Rep. Washburne represents the entirety of Gibson County and portions of ¬Knox, Pike, Vanderburgh and Posey counties.