A trio of Nebraska state senators are worried that the "federal government is overstepping its bounds," and have introduced a resolution to reaffirm "state sovereignty," according to the Omaha World-Herald. I thought it was interesting, but a sentence about halfway down the article really caught my eye:
Seven states passed resolutions this year affirming their sovereignty, and resolutions were introduced in 30 others.
Whoa - that's a significant majority.
So I emailed the OWH reporter who wrote the story, Martha Stoddard, to find out which ones and she pointed me to the pro-states rights Tenth Amendment Center. Just to give you a quick refresher from history class, the Tenth Amendment states that "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."
According to the Center, the seven state legislatures that have passed a resolution affirming states sovereignty this year are Alaska, Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota [PDF], Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee.
View State Sovereignty Resolutions in a larger map
Alaska and Idaho are classic libertarian states so I understand why this movement would be popular in those states (Interestingly, New Hampshire and Montana are two states I'd also predict would pass something like this and resolutions were defeated in both of those states.)
Tennessee and Oklahoma are part of that Jacksonian Belt connecting a handful of Appalachian states that gave John Kerry a better tally than Barack Obama.
I'm not really sure I have a good explanation for why Louisiana and the Dakotas would pass this. I always see the Dakotas as the kind of states that believe in government-for-good and don't like to ruffle feathers. Louisiana, for its part, has always been a unique state and was indeed the last one to agree to a drinking age of 21 in exchange for federal highway funds.
Of the seven states to have passed "state sovereignty" resolutions, four are controlled solely by the party out of control in Washington - Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota - and have heavily Republican Legislatures. Tennessee has a conservative Democratic governor and Republican Legislature, and Louisiana has a Republican governor and a Democratic Legislature. Oklahoma - Obama's worst state - is a unique case. After a resolution passed the Republican Legislature, Democratic Gov. Brad Henry vetoed it, but it's since been reintroduced in the House.
Finally, no debate about "state sovereignty" would be complete without a discussion of the states' rights argument made by secessionists leading up to the Civil War and later by segregationists.
The OWH questioned the cosponsors of the Nebraska legislation about it, including state Sen. Tony Fulton, an Asian-American, who said they have no intention of promoting racism. But it's still part of the debate there. State Sen. Bill Avery told the OWH that "I'm not saying that the people making the case now are racist, but I don't think Nebraska needs to be getting in bed with these kinds of resolutions."
I personally don't think that racism is a motivating factor to these resolutions - I think there's a lot of backlash in many Red States whenever a left-of-center Democratic president and a liberal Congress (I chose those descriptions carefully) take control of the federal government and start spending money like drunken sailors - but there are certainly race politics at work in the Jacksonian Belt states that passed this resolution.
I also think that in times of economic downturn and when polls show that Americans see the swamp on the Potomac as a cesspool, we see heightened anti-Washington sentiment. I'm going to watch closely which states pass these resolutions. Idaho is home to vulnerable freshman Rep. Walt Minnick (D-01) and Louisiana is home to possibly vulnerable Rep. Charlie Melacon (D-03), who is running for Senate. Will they face the wrath of the anti-DC backlash? And can Alaska Rep. Don Young (R-AL) survive again and will his reputation as anti-Washington save him?
Maybe "state sovereignty" resolutions are a canary in a coalmine. We'll see soon.