Monday, November 6, 2017

STATES' RIGHTS: Federalism and the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

Federalism, the 10th Amendment, and State's Rights are all subjects near and dear to my heart.  Having observed the course of business in our national capitol and its propensity for one-size-fits-all policy, I recognize the great wisdom our Founder's showed when they ordained the separate states as laboratories of democracy.  So, it is with great regret that I watch as national policy is drafted that pleases a few but runs counter to the will and best interests of other various states.  Such a process is not only insensitive, but also completely unnecessary.

Presently, national directives are dictated by the great policy making exercise that occurs every four years: the Presidential Election.  It is during this great exercise in political showmanship that promises are made and deals struck by candidates to assure their ascendance to power.  If the right agreements are made with enough of the right people, the candidate prevails and becomes our head of state.

We witnessed this in President Trump's surprising victory in November.  He defied conventional political wisdom by wooing Rust Belt Democrats to his cause and blurring the traditional party lines.  In order to secure the support of these voters, it was required to strike a deal with the trade unions to promote a trade policy that encourages U.S. manufacturing.  This policy would involve tariffs, regulations, and potential trade wars with other countries.  While a trade war would be good for Ohio and Pennsylvania, it would not be good for Utah which is an export state.

Which begs the question, why would such a bargain be struck to gain support of the Rust Belt states in the first place?  Well, as it turns out, states like Pennsylvania and Ohio are swing states.  Like Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina, the margins of support in the 2016 election were too close to call before election day to know if the state would throw its Electoral College votes to a candidate of either party.  The reason this electoral uncertainty is important is because nearly all the states in the country, except Nebraska and Maine, have pledged their Electoral College votes to the candidate who wins the state popular vote.

This winner-take-all policy has in turn created battleground states who gain all the attention during presidential elections. Meanwhile, the remaining states, like Utah, sit on the benches and watch as national policy is crafted based on the needs and desires of these all-important battleground states. The spectator states are left wanting.

To offer some examples, let's look at two of the most partisan issues that have risen in recent Utah memory: Public Lands and Medicaid Expansion.  Regarding Medicaid Expansion, Utah, like most states, applied for Federal waivers to the program.  The waivers would have exempted Utah from some parts of the law to help the program better fit with what local political leaders felt would work in the state.  Our request was outright rejected.  Meanwhile, Florida, a battleground state, received their Federal waiver and was able to move forward with the program.  Had the Federal government been willing to accommodate Utah's specific needs, the acrimonious debate on Medicaid expansion would probably have been much more subdued.

The other issue vexing Utah is how we manage our public lands.  With over 60% of the land in our state being owned and managed by the Federal Government, we have a strong interest in making sure that management is being handled properly.  Many rural communities depend on that stewardship being treated seriously.  With the Federal Government having such a large footprint in the state, problems are bound to surface.  When they do, Utah has petitioned the Federal Government to resolve the conflicts.  Unfortunately, few of our requests are granted.  Meanwhile, Colorado, who also has a large amount of Federally owned public land, has most of their public lands conflicts resolved.  Is it merely a coincidence that Colorado is also a battleground state?  It is not.

So, how does Utah reassert its rights as a state and engage in the national policy discussion?  The answer is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  By forcing Presidential Candidates to consider the needs of all the voters in all of the States, the policy outcomes will be more even-handed.  Given the diverse perspectives and needs of each state, candidates would be forced to promise policy that would accommodate large swaths of the country rather than specific niches.  Spectator states, like Utah, would become proportionally relevant again to the policy discussion and improve the likelihood that their grievances are heard.

I hope you can join me in supporting the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  Utah deserves to have a seat at the Federal policy table.  I look forward to presenting this exciting policy initiative in the 2018 General Session.                 



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