Opinion

A broken federal government reminds us there’s hope in state legislatures

Senate leader Phil Berger, flanked by Sens. Bill Rabon (left) and Tommy Tucker (right), explain at a Feb. 23 press conference steps the Senate may take to compel Larry Hall's attendance at his confirmation hearing. (CJ Photo by Don Carrington)
Senate leader Phil Berger, flanked by Sens. Bill Rabon (left) and Tommy Tucker (right), explain at a Feb. 23 press conference steps the Senate may take to compel Larry Hall's attendance at his confirmation hearing. (CJ Photo by Don Carrington)

For the average American, disconnect from the federal government remains exorbitant. It should be with lawmakers running up obscene amounts of debt on top of the nonstop partisan bickering. Yet, even now, all is not lost in representative government, thanks mostly due to the work of state legislatures.

This is a point made particularly well this month by Andrew Cuff at The American Conservative. Cuff points out that state legislatures can still be the hero of the forgotten middle class. A significant part of that reason is that they are a governing body that still listens to their constituents.

Recent examples include aggressively tackling issues like emergency powers reform and bolstering election integrity. This is true of many Republican legislators that have worked to check the power of governors in their own party.

Furthermore, legislators at the state level pushed forward with election reform and rolling back emergency powers despite tantrums from corporate media and threats by left-leaning groups to spend whatever it takes to drive the reformers from state office. “Their kinship with the middle class and dismissal of special interests has made them a special target of political spending by national union leadersDemocrat strategists, and Soros-backed NGOs,” writes Cuff.

One of the best-sustained contrasts with the Washington swamp can be found right here in North Carolina. State lawmakers, unlike their federal counterparts, have controlled spending and the growth of the government in recent years. This has allowed North Carolinians to keep more of their own money from filling state coffers. Families — particularly the middle class —are empowered to flourish when they can keep more of their earnings. The Republican effort to resist Medicaid expansion, led by state Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, allows North Carolina to tie up less of its financial future to an already bankrupt federal government.

Yet, at the federal level, profligate spending and debt are creating a future where inflation may wipe out the middle class’s savings and fuel even more federal dependency.

The government that governs closest is the one that tends to govern best. This is an enduring principle of American federalism. This truth, while lost on many today, is still highly visible in our political system. State legislatures —empowered by their constituency — are clawing back against one-size-fits-all approaches and autocratic executive branches.

Former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal gave an important speech in Charlotte in 2013. In his remarks, he stated what should be a simple truth: “America is not the federal government.” Yet, for this to be true, citizens need to be a contributing factor to the vitality of representative government and pushback against centralized power. This requires strong state legislatures, the place where most ideas percolate and the most meaningful reforms occur.

Americans have learned that even reshuffling the deck in Washington does little to nothing to change the trajectory of our national decline and division. At the state level, many states, including North Carolina, have patiently waited in vain for a governor to implement saner COVID-19 lockdown policies. Change is coming from state legislatures where they are equipped to accomplish two essential goals: a pushback against centralized power while listening and responding to their constituents.

If legislators merely rubber stamp Washington’s agenda, they will be swept away by diminishing relevance. The good news remains that Washington’s failure is a great opportunity for a revival of federalism with state legislatures leading the way.

Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor.