Where’s the line?
A group of Utah legislators and political activists hope you will be hearing a lot more about this question in the near future.
A new nonprofit foundation – named “Where’s the Line?” – has formed. It’s backers held a get-together Monday morning in the State Capitol.
The ultimate goal of WTL: Bringing the balance of power between the federal government and states back to where the Founding Fathers desired.
Federalism, as it’s called, is certainly not new. And it isn’t partisan.
When the late Gov. Scott M. Matheson left office in 1985 he wrote a book called “Out of Balance.” The popular Democratic governor spoke at length about how the federal government was too big and too powerful and wouldn’t let the states govern themselves.
In the early 1990s, former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt attempted a national movement to restore balance between the federal government and the states – only to see it fall flat after being opposed mainly by ultra-conservative Republicans.
The Utah Legislature has tried, also. Former House Speaker Marty Stephens began his APPLE initiative, an attempt to get more money from federal lands in Utah.
Now the effort starts again in Utah – and rightly so – said various speakers at the kick-off event.
Robin Riggs (former chief counsel for Leavitt and Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce general counsel) and LaVarr Webb (publisher of UtahPolicy Daily) were the co-hosts.
Webb, then policy director for Leavitt, was the lead staffer behind Leavitt’s efforts at striking a blow for state sovereignty.
About two dozen lawmakers, including both Democratic and GOP leaders, attended Monday.
The Where’s the Line Foundation has just been formed, said Riggs. Fund raising will follow, with the goal of raising around $200,000 a year and spending the money mainly on getting legislators and citizens from the various 50 states educated and active in “pushing back” against the feds.
The foundation name comes from a booklet published by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan: “Where’s the Line? How States Protect the Constitution.”
Ivory has passed out various editions of the booklet to Utah legislators since he came into office in 2010.
Ivory is backing up his thoughts with legislation.
As reported earlier in UtahPolicy, Ivory has a bill this session that basically “puts the federal government on the clock” in returning to the state millions of acres of federally-owned land – as was promised at statehood in 1896.
Under the bill, federal land agents will be billed for property taxes the federal land would be paying if it were in private hands.
In addition, the bill gives Congress until the end of 2014 to turn over federal lands in Utah to the state. If it doesn’t, lawsuits will follow.
And Ivory says a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision involving federal lands in Hawaii makes the time ripe for a huge win for Utah.
Trillions of dollars now locked up in undevelopable federal lands – mostly BLM lands – could be released to help pay for Utah school children’s education.
Others are also filing anti-fed power bills this session. Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, has introduced HB511, which says local governments can take federal land by eminent domain unless the Legislature has approved that the land in question is federal land.
Ivory’s model legislation will also be introduced in other western public land state legislatures this year, he told UtahPolicy several weeks ago.
At the time of that story, Ivory said the battle against the federal government would be multi-faceted with a number of folks involved. While he didn’t name the WTL foundation then, that group effort is clearly what he was talking about.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R- South Jordan, will oversee development of several online educational tools for WTL, he told the gathering. Osmond’s firm develops and sells online educational materials.
At some point WTL will have it’s own web site where Osmond’s educational tools can be read and downloaded. Ivory already has his own web site: Where’s the Line America.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is also pushing Ivory’s bill. While that is a conservative government policy group, Ivory said Monday that he’s also spoken to moderate groups about the need for states to reclaim some of their original power and authority.
He cited a recent national poll that shows most Americans – whether Democrats, independents or Republicans – believe the federal government has grown too big, spends too much money, and has too much authority over state and local governments.
It’s neither odd nor strange that Utah lead out in fighting the federal government, said House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
She said Utah is leading the nation in job development and economic recovery. It’s been named as the best place to do business and the best managed state in the nation.
“Our government is not just the separation of powers” between the federal executive, judicial and legislative, said Lockhart.
It is also a balance of power between the states and federal government – and that is a battle the states have been losing for 130 years.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, told those attending that it’s not enough to just file a bill – although new law will help.
“We gotta do something. We just can’t sit here.”
He said many Tea Partiers thought they had achieved their goals when they defeated former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, in the 2010 GOP state convention, driving him from office.
“Mike Lee (who defeated Bennett) can’t do this for you,” said Waddoups. “You gotta do this yourselves.”
Webb said the Founding Fathers gave the states two powerful tools. Unfortunately, over time state bosses have given both of them up.
First, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures – and so if they didn’t speak for the states and protect state power, they were out of office. But the 17th Amendment elected senators by popular vote.
“We can’t go back, wasting time thinking we can repeal the 17th Amendment; we’ve lost that tool.”
The second tool is the power of state legislatures, collectively, to call a constitutional convention.
For various reasons – fear of a runaway convention and lack of guidelines or methods to even convene and run such a convention – that tool has proven unworkable as well, said Webb.
(The Leavitt/Webb effort in the 1990s failed, in part, because archconservatives feared their group would end up with a constitutional convention where civil liberties could be abridged -- even though such a convention was never part of Leavitt’s movement.)
So, the best route of reclaiming state rights now lies with educating state legislators and leading citizens who together – perhaps with state laws and court cases – can slowly draw power away from the federal government.
Webb said many state legislators don’t realize that they have considerable power – even federal constitutional power. They just have to learn how to use it.
And that, in the end, is the goal of WTL -- to develop tools and act as a clearinghouse to educate state legislators about how they can fight for state sovereignty.