A return to federalism.

By Dylan R.N. Crabb

American elections have become sensational horse races during which political polarization seems at it worst. Every 2-4 years, Leftists and Rightists depart for their respective camps and the ideological battle of spoken words dominates the 24-hour news cycle all the way up to Election Day; all the while the Centrists and marginalized political parties are largely ignored. Coverage of national government commands the media stage as high-profile Republicans and Democrats in the Congress craft their talking points and reiterate them on the respective news stations; all the while state lawmakers are largely ignored.

Why do national elections get more attention than regional elections? Regional and local representatives control the policies and budgets that immediately affect our daily lives and it is easier for one person to coordinate with peers in their immediate area of residence rather than with fellow Americans across several states. It was a miracle that 17th century America was able to come together and ratify the newly written United States Constitution which is why America’s original statesmen constructed a federalist form of government for the new democratic-republic, one containing dual sovereignty for the national government and the individual state governments.

I think 21st century Americans can learn much from our ancestors from the early decades of our republic.

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite (James Madison, Federalist 45, 1788).”

“I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground that ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.’ To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, not longer susceptible of any definition (Thomas Jefferson, Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank, 1791).”

The principle of federalism – be it dual federalism or cooperative federalism – is a founding principle of American constitutionalism, the idea that government power must be separated into branches and levels with the goal of limiting the government power. This is beneficial to the general public because it would limit the power of unpopular individuals in positions of power. Strict interpretations of legal doctrines and political term limits are examples of checks on power.

If Americans can increase their understanding and influence in their local and regional governments, traditional federalism can become a stronger bulwark against over-reach from the national government, and elected officials like our current president will not only have opposition in the Congress to contend with but also opposition from each state. For New Mexicans, more state sovereignty can mean less reliance on the national government.

I don’t believe sovereignty is something that can be given to a population by a higher authority, people must fight (literally or metaphorically) for sovereignty and prove themselves worthy of statehood.