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The Power of the States

The Power of the States

In 1979, I was one of a couple dozen young cattlemen from across the country meeting in Washington DC with the Secretary of Agriculture and his senior staff. That morning, they made it clear that the interest of America’s agricultural producers was no longer their focus. We were taken aback by their condescension while the Secretary, the President’s man in the room, sat timid and compliant.

I raised my hand: “This is an election year, so what happens if the sitting President does not return?” A career administrator rudely pointed at the Secretary, “It doesn’t matter who is sitting in that chair. We are who run the Department, and we’re not going anywhere.”

It turned out he wasn’t correct. A new President was elected that year, and apparently this official had earned the attention of more than just our little bunch of cowboys. He finished his career at a minor border crossing in Minnesota.

What we were witnessing in 1979 was an aggressive acceleration of the Administrative State that has, since then, grown into a government itself, unaccountable, with its own executive, legislative and judicial functions.

I have been privileged to work with many dedicated professionals in federal government, true public servants who do their country proud. However, their agencies have grown out of control, with appetites demanding hundreds of billions of dollars each year from an irresponsible Congress whose legislation often reads more like platitudes than laws, providing funding with non-existent dollars, and instructing the agencies to make their own rules. Career politicians simply write the hot check and hurry off to the next fashionable topic, casting accountability and restraint aside.

The results are both predictable and suffocating. In 1979 the national debt was $827 billion (31% of GDP). Today it exceeds $22.3 trillion (105% of GDP). Prosperity is threatened while government continues to grow, regulate, dominate, and “spend like a drunken sailor” as I used to say, until an old sailor reminded me that in his day, when he ran out of money, he would quit drinking.

I doubt anyone on either end of the political spectrum in 1979 would have believed that, less than 40 years later, federal regulation would have such a stranglehold, or that the direct national debt would exceed the country’s Gross National Product, or that the unfunded liabilities added in would increase that obligation by a factor of five, or that a pandering, self-dealing Congress, more concerned with their careers than the country, would allow any of this. But, here we are in 2019, facing all of it.

This corrosive combination appears unstoppable, casting America into permanent decline, but it isn’t. The Constitution’s framers, knowing Congress might someday be unwilling to quash the self-interested motives of its members, gave the states the authority to bypass Congress. Two thirds (34) of the legislatures can bring together a national convention to consider possible amendments to run the gamut of ratification or rejection by at least 38 states.

A movement has taken root to call for such a convention, under Article V of the Constitution, to consider amendments to impose fiscal restraint, limit the power & jurisdiction of the federal government, and set term limits on federal officials. Over three million citizens have signed on to the effort and, to date, 15 states have passed similar resolutions calling for a convention. Many states are in play. By invoking Article V, the exact mechanism prescribed by the framers for such circumstances, Americans can require accountability from those who were sent to serve, not to rule.

Those in the deep-rooted political and administrative establishment may presently believe they are not going anywhere but, like the fellow who finished out his career at that remote Minnesota border crossing, they ought not be so secure about where they may think they are not going.

Information on the Convention of States Project can be found at

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