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ESSAY: Candidates at all levels should know Constitution

By Dr. Harold Pease

May 8, 2018
       With election signs everywhere, it is well to note that it is unrealistic to expect national candidates to follow the Constitution when we did not insist that they did so in local and state elections. After all, many simply move up to higher office. Some may even view the Constitution as irrelevant at these levels.
       Several years ago at a public debate for county supervisor in California, the public was invited to offer written questions. I did so and watched the debate monitor,
Dr. Harold Pease
Courtesy photo
with a puzzled look on his face, sideline my question in preference to others. I presumed it was because it raised a constitutional concern, which unfortunately, is considered by many an irrelevant topic at the city, county, or even state levels. You are supposed to ask what “goodies” from taxpayer funding are you going to give me and is it more than your opponent?
       So what does the Constitution have to do with local or state issues? Everything!! First, it is the only document that every elected public servant swears by oath to uphold. So the Founders must have thought it relevant at lower levels.
       Second, candidates at lower levels successfully rise to higher levels because of the name recognition obtained at lower levels and eventually become members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, often without ever having read the Constitution they are specifically under oath to protect. When I worked as a legislative assistant in the U.S. Senate years ago, I was certain at least 50 percent had never read it at any level of government. Today I would be surprised if those who had read it exceeded 10 percent. No one asks candidates while campaigning when they last read it.
       So again, why does this matter? Historically, the two major enemies of freedom are: 1) it is the nature of all governments to pull decision-making power upward to the seat of government and, 2) the more apathetic and indifferent the population becomes the greater the tendency of the people to push decision-making power upwards to the seat of government.
       When these two forces work together, it always leads to the central government eventually having most of the power. The Constitution is full of “handcuffs” to keep decision-making power from getting to the top thus maximizing it with the individual. The Founders' overriding philosophy of government, if it could be penned into one sentence, was, “never elevate to a higher level that which can be resolved at a lesser level.”
       Even a casual look at the Constitution reveals the separation of powers on the federal level into three distinct branches - legislative, executive and judicial - each with a specific list:
  • Congress - a list of the four types of law they could make (Art. I, Sec. 8).
  • President - the types of executive functions that could be accomplished (Art. II, Sec. 2-3).
  • Supreme Court - the types of cases it could adjudicate (Art. III, Sec. 2).
           The lists exist both to restrict each branch and to prohibit the concentration of power into any one of them. The only type of federal government authorized by the Founders was decidedly a limited one. States, counties and cities have all the powers not listed, as per Amendment 10.
           When these limitations are not understood and protected at lower levels of government, the federal government is constantly tempted to steal authority from the states or counties. Examples are environmental, health and education issues, which are constitutionally 100 percent non-federal government issues.
           States, counties and cities should use the Tenth Amendment to tell the federal government to “butt out. You have no constitutional authority.” When Congress passed - and President Obama signed into law - the National Defense Authorization Act on Dec. 31, 2012, all states and counties should have written Congress and the president and said: “You may not void Amendments 4, 5, 6 and 8 of the Bill of Rights and the Writ of Habeas Corpus for our citizens.”
           Sixty years ago, it may not have made much difference if county supervisors/commissioners or city councilmembers swore allegiance to a Constitution they had not fully studied, or worse, even read. The federal government had not yet absorbed their areas of jurisdiction. Now it has! There is hardly an area where the federal government does not have its tentacles embedded, from school lunches to cross-gender bathrooms. Over thirty years ago, a city councilman complained to me that a third of what he voted on was already mandated because sometime in the past the council had accepted the “free money” which now obligated him. School districts are notorious for having done the same thing.
           City, county and state leaders - you are our buffer from the federal government taking from you your areas of jurisdiction. It has done so for many years because you were complacent about or ignorant of the Constitution. Consequently you have lost a large portion of our liberty. Today, your understanding of the document must be known before we place you in power.
           This election, let us find leaders with constitutional fire in their bellies to undo the precedents that their predecessors created. All issues on the city and county levels are directly or indirectly constitutional issues. Leaders must know, and abide by, the document that they swear to uphold.

           Dr. Pease is a specialist on the United States Constitution and its application to current events. He has taught history and political science for more than 25 years at Taft College. To read more of his articles, go to libertyunderfire.org.

    (Opinion: General)

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