Opinion

BIDLACK | Lamborn left federalism at the altar to get back on the ballot

Author: Hal Bidlack - May 4, 2018 - Updated: May 4, 2018

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Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

Did you hear the lead story on the news — that initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 211,000 for the week ended April 28? No? Did you hear the White House accept the blame and state that since Mr. Trump is in office, every little wiggle in the economy is his fault? Not so much?

Well, that’s likely for two reasons. First, little bumps in things like unemployment claims are, in fact, normal and not a big deal. But secondly, you didn’t hear the White House take the blame because, well, the GOP is in power now. Do you remember how the Republicans reacted to every little blip under President Obama? Talk of failed policies and terrible leadership ring a bell? But at least you heard about it as a top news story, from the liberal/fake/alternative fact lame-stream news? No? They must have forgotten to get their orders from (take your choice: Hillary, George Soros, I dunno…the Illuminati?).

Some months ago, I wrote about the thing that bugs me the most in modern politics, what I then called “bold hypocrisy.” Now, we are all hypocrites in our daily lives because we are human. We try to fight against it, but we all have our faults. But I would hope that at the level of national politics, we would seek to minimize that hypocrisy as much as possible. Which brings me back, of course, to Congressman Doug Lamborn and the fundamental principles of our government. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

The Founders’ brilliant creation, our Constitution, the longest-surviving written constitution in world history, was all about protecting the liberty of the people. Before we go on, please re-read Federalist Paper #10. I’ll wait…

Ah, see that? The brilliance of the Founders was to take the basic flaw of human nature – we want stuff and are greedy — and turn it into the key protections for all citizens. There are two instruments to protect our liberty, one which divides our government vertically, so to speak, and the other that divides our government horizontally. We know that humans are selfish, so we divide the powers of the national government into three branches. That’s good, and we all know about it, but it wasn’t seen as enough of a protection. So, the Founders also introduced the horizontal cut — federalism.

Federalism is a word that is often misunderstood when it is tossed around today, but it does have a specific meaning. The Founders’ notion of federalism was that you divide the government into three (or more) layers – federal, state, and local. So far, that’s pretty normal and lots of countries (hi France) do it that way. But the key innovation in 1787 was not just dividing into layers but was also giving each level the power to make final decisions on stuff that the other layers could not reverse. Think state control over education and city control over parks and local police forces. The president cannot, for example, order Denver to water a park, nor can the mayor of Limon order the U.S. Army to patrol his or her streets.

Federalism is often the battle cry of conservatives and the GOP in particular. Keep the feds out of my business, and so on. Which brings me back to Mr. Lamborn (Editor: finally)…

You see, when Mr. Lamborn was found to have not gathered enough “legal” signatures to be placed on the GOP June primary ballot (see my earlier column on why that was a silly law in the first place), his solution as a loyal Republican, a champion of federalism and small government, was not to abide by a state law that he might disagree with. No, Mr. Lamborn — small-government Republican that he is — punted completely on federalism. He abandoned the idea that Colorado gets to set its own election law and he fled to federal court. Yup, when the precious state court ruled against him, he asked the national government to overturn (thwart?) the will of the state court, deciding a state case, based on state law.

And he won! And he won again on appeal!

Now, as I said in my earlier piece, I think the state law that he violated was a bad law. But it was the law of this state. Mr. Lamborn demonstrated an all-too-common tactic of the modern GOP — spout off about small government and states’ rights right up until the time that it becomes inconvenient. More hypocrisy, this time federal-sized.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.