State governors are the battered wives of the Federal system. Given a hefty annual allowance from Washington, DC, they are content to suffer blow after blow to State sovereignty guaranteed by the Constitution. This is true of Democrats and Republicans alike. Living more or less happily for four- and eight-year stints in their various state-owned mansions, they could just as well be administering colonies for a distant British Crown.
And why not? Over $600 billion in direct Federal aid flows annually for medical, education, transportation, agricultural, housing and other miscellaneous outlays that now comprise the largest source of State revenues. Two states – Louisiana and Oklahoma – lean on Uncle Sam for half of their budget revenue. Thus we end up with governors who rather occupy their workdays choosing new license plate colors than objecting to unconstitutional Federal spending on colonoscopies, preschools, highways, sugar subsidies and free townhouses.
In case you were absent that day, the whole point of the Constitution was to keep us a free people, not to give free things to people. The national government was given a few specific chores: maintain a navy, deliver the mail, keep states from engaging in trade wars, and a few others listed in Article I, Section 8. Everything else was left to the States and the people (see the Tenth Amendment). Unfortunately, too many now regard the State as little more than a line on one’s address, or among the sporting set, a geographic synecdoche for collegiate athletic teams.
Our Founding Fathers fought a bloody war for independence and then debated fiercely for a federal model as a bulwark against centralized tyranny. Continued State sovereignty was the brilliant part of their plan. “Every thing beyond this must be left to the prudence and firmness of the people; who, as they will hold the scales in their own hands, it is to be hoped, will always take care to preserve the constitutional equilibrium between the general and the State governments,” wrote Alexander Hamilton in Federalist #31.
Indeed, the scales are in our hands. For eighty years we tipped them towards a debt-ridden Federal nanny-state thanks to a well-played dependency agenda. With the help of Tea Party activism, we are tipping them back. The States are our last hope to restore constitutional balance and protect individual liberty against a Federal government gone amok. But to do that, we need to start taking over some governors’ mansions.