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Virginia 's Federalist Challenge

Virginia 's Federalist Challenge
American Legislative Exchange Council 21st Annual Meeting
Tampa, Florida
August 5, 1994

Becky Norton Dunlop

It is a real pleasure for me to be here today at this ALEC Conference. 21 years ago I was a staff member for the organization that founded ALEC and the number of state legislators who met together for the first annual meeting would not have filled a room the size of this speaker's platform. So, you can imagine how gratifying it is for me to see so many of you in attendance today. It confirms my hope and optimism for the future of our nation and its constitutional principles.

As a member of President Reagan's Working Group on Federalism, I had the good fortune of working for a President and with other federal government leaders who believed in the concept of Federalism. We advanced the notion--we championed the idea, the belief--that states and individuals could do better dealing with issues than the federal government and we moved programs from the federal government to the state and local governments. President Reagan said that the 21st Century will be the century of the States. I say, "Come quickly, please!"

Currently, the federal government is moving aggressively in the opposite direction. It is shifting the focus back to command and control federalization of policy. Words and rhetoric that support state flexibility and state government authority are not matched by actions of the Clinton Administration. And actions speak louder than words.

The federal government's appetite is voracious: for dollars; for power; for bigger federal government. Regard for states is lacking. Regard for the Tenth Amendment is nil.

Yet, having observed the current status, I still recall President Reagan's words about the 21st Century and I bring you this speech with a spirit of optimism.

In Virginia, we look upon our challenge for the next four years as Virginia's federalist challenge. And, indeed, Virginia's federalist challenge is America's federalist challenge.

America's federalist challenge is to once again understand what federalism is, and why it is important; and then in the deeds we do, to act with understanding about the very genius of the American experiment in liberty.

As we are successful in demonstrating the beauty of federalism we will demonstrate to all--to all in Virginia, to all in America, and to people all around the world--we will demonstrate through our deeds that the fundamental first principles that established the American experiment have relevance for our people today, can be applied effectively in the governance of our commonwealth, and can work for the betterment of individuals lives, liberty, and their pursuit of happiness.

Well, you say, "you speak of the beauty of federalism. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Why is federalism so beautiful to behold? Indeed, what is federalism?"

In a word, federalism is liberty. While not everyone in this room might say it that way, those who care know it to be true.

And, my friends let me tell you that constitutional liberty is what differentiates the American experiment in government from all others.

The genius of the American experiment is that our Constitution is a charter of government, the central proposition of which is that the people must be protected from government.

As George Washington said in his farewell address:

"Government is like fire. It can be a helpful servant or a fearful master."

And today, as never before, we are suffering under the ravages of a fearful master.

Above all else, the Constitution--which each of us has taken a solemn oath to uphold--is a document designed to assure the liberty of the people. The essential device upon which that liberty rests is federalism--leaving to the states or to the people the authority and responsibility to decide for themselves how they will further the blessings of liberty.

The principle of federalism is as a thread woven into every bit of the fabric of the Constitution, and is summed up in the Tenth Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

My area of natural resources is in the very vortex of the struggles that define the issue. The lawful acts of Congress require that the states undertake deeds to accomplish reductions in air pollution. Agencies of the federal government--contrary to the principles of federalism--are insisting that we impose what we in Virginia believe to be wrongheaded mandates on our people and local governments. The issue in our struggle with the EPA is not about clean air--it is about the liberty of the states and the liberty of the people.

In each area of government there are similar struggles. Indeed, many are much more profound in their impact upon the character and values of our people.

But let me share with you briefly some of the struggles in which we are engaged in the natural resources area.

On January 15, 1994, when George Allen took office of Governor of Virginia, he made clear to the citizens and to his cabinet that we in Virginia were going to stand up to the federal government for our constitutional liberties.

For me, that meant immediate action on the mandates of the Clean Air Act. Our predecessor administration had submitted a plan that was acceptable to EPA but was not in the best interests of clean air or Virginians. It mandated 900,000 automobile tests conducted annually in only 10 locations in all of northern Virginia.

Once we had reviewed the law and determined that this program was not mandated by the law but rather by the unelected bureaucrats at EPA, we pulled the plan back and submitted a plan that met the performance standards of the Clean Air Act but was consumer friendly, more cost effective, and would result in real improvements in air quality. EPA rejected that plan based on their computer modeling and their interpretation of the law and regulations. We submitted another plan one week ago. This plan, while not as effective as our initial submission, nevertheless would meet the letter and spirit of the law and be consumer friendly. Late Wednesday, in a telephone call, EPA officials notified us that this plan would also be rejected. The explanation: It did not fit within their interpretation of the rules that they wrote and--now listen--if they approved this new and innovative plan, it would cause other states to want to reopen and renegotiate their plans.

Virginia now must review this new decision and determine the next best course of action for our state in this area of auto emissions testing. We must look at our constitutional prerogatives; the opportunities for seeking further review of our proposal in light of EPA common sense initiative; or if we should choose to fight another day on this battle.

As Margaret Thatcher once said, "You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it." Virginia is ready, willing, and able to fight this battle again and again for our Tenth Amendment and our constitutional rights.

There are other issues we are facing in the battle to reinvigorate the Tenth Amendment. These include:

  • The Title V program of the Clean Air Act where we see a very clear constitutional challenge shaping up;
  • The Superfund program that has absolutely made administrative units out of the states;
  • The Ozone Transport Commission, a regional governmental body created by the Congress which has given authority to a majority of the member states to mandate actions on the entire membership;
  • Land purchases by the federal government with no consideration of the state's views or interests;
  • Takings of the property of private citizens without just compensation; and
  • Application of the Endangered Species Act.

And these are just areas limited to natural resources and the environment!

In conclusion, let me reiterate that our challenge is to recognize that the business we are about is the business of liberty.

Liberty is not sustained when the officers of the government forget this first principle.

Constitutional liberty is what has made America distinctive. Let us recognize this.

We must establish every policy, undertake every deed with the peal of the bell of liberty ringing constantly in our ears.

Let us understand that the essence of federalism is that each of us should be about the business of liberty--to have it said that we did what we could do to see that liberty advanced in the hearts and minds of all Americans.

Thank you for all you are doing. May God be with us as we meet this challenge and may God bless these United States of America.