- - Friday, July 27, 2012

Upon leaving the national news website HotAir.com to join the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), I proclaimed my faith in federalism and cited it as my prime justification for focusing on state, rather than federal, policy.

Unfortunately, just a few weeks on the job have been sufficient to teach me that state legislators are not necessarily better stewards of power than federal legislators.

OCPA research has uncovered at least $2 billion in potential savings Oklahoma could achieve simply by eliminating waste. Consider just three examples of the way the legislature in my home state misappropriated taxpayer dollars in the last legislative session: Hundreds of thousands to fund space travel. Money to buy membership in a federal lobbying organization. Cash to cover grandpa’s greens fees.

Apparently, the temptation to satisfy special interests overcomes legislators’ intention to serve the general interest at every level of government.

But then, I’m not sure why this is a surprise. Human nature is, after all, human nature. We’re all born with the tendency to act in our own interest — and it’s in the interest of legislators to satisfy whoever sways elections. As much as we wish our fellow men — especially our elected representatives — would do what is right simply because it is right, experience has taught us not to expect it.

That’s no cause for dejection. Instead, it’s cause to revisit the system established by our Founding Fathers and re-harness it to create the proper incentives to inspire elected officials to legislate well.

Of all systems of government, that system in which the national government has limited, enumerated powers — and in which all powers not delegated to the national government are retained by the states — is still the best.

Just like the division of political power among the legislative, executive and judicial branches at the national level, the division of power among national and state governments serves two purposes: (1) It protects individual liberty from unjust encroachments by political officials, and (2) it creates a division of labor that eases the work of all. Power is divided in part for the benefit of legislators themselves, to ensure that they will not be overwhelmed with unlimited problems to address.

According to constitutional scholar Anthony Peacock, the founders thought state governments, to the extent that they were well-administered, would possess a greater degree of influence over the people.

“This was the principle of competition applied to governments, and the reward for just behavior was the confidence of the citizenry,” Mr. Peacock writes in “How to Read the Federalist Papers.”

Let’s remind state legislators of the renown the founders intended them to have. In exchange for focused, effective administration of core services, we’ll esteem them more highly than national legislators and reward them with re-election.

Otherwise, we’ll forcibly remind them that whatever power they have derives from us — by voting out every legislator who betrays the general interest to curry favor with a few, not just this November, but every November.

Tina Korbe is policy impact director at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. She was previously associate editor at HotAir.com and a staff writer at the Heritage Foundation.