Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Raise the flag and load your weapons!!

Traditional protocol holds that if you're flying both the state and the U.S. flag, the U.S. flag flies higher and is usually larger. I wouldn't be surprised, however, to find some Utah state legislators flying the state flag above the federal flag at their own homes. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me, given some of the current rhetoric, if they stopped flying the stars and stripes altogether. A number of conservative legislators are running "message bills" this year with the explicit message that Utah is not beholden to the federal government. The SLTrib recently reported that Sen. Stephen Urquhart (R-St. George), commenting on one such bill, asserted that Utah is "sovereign and we take our sovereignty seriously."
Grandstanding of this type against the federal government is nothing new in Utah. Utah was at the center of the Sagebrush Rebellion during the 70s and 80s and has the ironic distinction of giving George W. his largest margin of victory in both the 2000 and 2004 elections, but then leading the charge against his No Child Left Behind education mandate. But this most recent revival of the tired old motif, especially when considered in light of much of the legislation proposed by those most loudly sounding the call, is worrisome and irresponsible on a whole new level. What did Urquhart mean by his claim that we are "sovereign and we take our sovereignty seriously"? Just an assertion of states' rights over federal rights or something more?
When considered in the context of the teaparty movement and the legislation being proposed by many of Urquhart's compatriots the latter doesn't seem so far fetched. Consider, for example, Texas Governor Rick Perry's addresses to tea party rallies in which supporters cheered, "secede!" as Perry ranted against federal spending. Is a similar sentiment growing in Utah?
While state legislators may not be pushing for all out secession from the Union (at least they haven't gone public with such an agenda yet), they are certainly fanning the flames. Senator Margaret Dayton wants to exempt firearms made in Utah from all federal regulations, including background checks. Representative Chris Herrod wants to use eminent domain to take over federal land, and Rep. Carl Wimmer has introduced a bill that would require legislative approval before the state abides by federal rules on health care. These are just three of a dozen or so bills being brought forward by conservative legislators with the specific intent of asserting state sovereignty as part of a concerted effort.
Before I move on, let me make it clear that i am not opposed to local control or local governance. I believe, as many conservatives do, that local officials are often in a better position to make decisions for their unique situations. I am, however, opposed to irresponsible legislating with significant potential negative repercussions simply for the sake of making a point
, and the proposed bills being brought forward by Dayton, Wimmer, et al certainly fall under this category. Each of them will face significant constitutional challenges if passed into law, but that is the intended purpose.
Herrod and Dayton have both acknowledged that these bills are first and foremost designed to spark legal battles. Herrod, as reported by the Daily Herald, explicity stated his bill is "designed to be a court case." Dayton has likewise commented that she is not pushing her bill because of any specific problem with existing law, but rather as a challenge to the feds. And a challenge is certain, Montana is already in court over a similar law passed there last year. Dayton wants a fight. But at what cost?
As many of those opposed to these potentially unconstitutional assertions of sovereignty have rightly acknowledged these legal battles will cost money at a time when we don't have any. The worst recession since the Great Depression has done its damage to our state coffers and forced the legislators to cut funds from every source possible. On the same day Dayton's bill passed out of the Senate, the House passed out the public education base budget that represents 12-15% cuts and the next day a higher education base budget that represents 19% cuts moved forward. Sen. Buttars has even proposed doing away with the 12th grade and busing in order to save money and as the Deseret News reported, service agencies across the state are struggling to serve the disabled and other clientele.
Yet even in the face of these all these cuts and financial challenges, the state sovereignty advocates are out to pick a fight (or more accurately a number of fights) with the federal government. If Dayton, Wimmer, Herrod and their ilk were willing to foot the bill for their reckless behavior, i wouldn't have much of a problem with it, but don't kid yourself. It is you and I the taxpayers who will pay for their petty attempts to send a message, and in the current financial recession that is downright immoral and unacceptable, not to mention the public safety problem of removing background checks on those purchasing weapons.
But let's be clear, this is not really about states' rights or limited government. It that were the case, then by logical extension, such advocates of states' rights would also support the rights of local cities and municipalities to determine their own policy. On the contrary, ever since Salt Lake City passed it's anti-discrimination ordinance banning housing discrimination against same-sex couples, there have been threats and rumblings from conservative lawmakers about a state law to overturn this decision. Hypocrisy is in the air.
So don't be surprised if you see the Great Seal of the State of Utah superimposed on the confederate flag, sans stars and stripes, flapping in the wind on a flag pole in Utah County. The movement is afoot. There may be other reasons Dayton wants to make it easier to acquire firearms.

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