Thomas Jefferson acquired 530 million acres for $15 million and, under the Constitution, relinquished the vast majority of it to newly created states and their people- and changed the world.
Outgoing President Barack Obama has now locked up 553 million acres as national monuments, in disregard of the Constitution and the equal protection of law, leaving western states and their people with burning forests, polluted air, devastated water supplies, blocked off access, underfunded schools and dead communities- and also changed the world.
Thomas Jefferson changed the world with his pen. He immortalized the American recipe for peace and prosperity with these 56 words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
Jefferson knew it was “self-evident” that all governing power resides in the people and that governments exist to secure their inherent right to pursue their unique vision of the “good life.” Secured in their right to own property and put it to the beneficial use of their choosing through their unique creative genius (liberty), Americans changed the world.
Barack Obama also changed the world with his pen. Through unilateral monument designations, executive orders, and a metastasizing mountain of federal regulations, President Obama has trampled this American recipe for peace and prosperity on his way out the door. Hard working ranching, farming, mining, timber, coal and energy producing families – who once supported America, and their own thriving communities and schools – are under attack at every turn by their own federal government. They are not secure in their right to pursue their unique vision of the “good life.” America (and the world) suffers because of it.
San Juan County, Utah is suffering because of it. This is where President Obama, from his Hawaiian vacation last week, seized 1.5 million acres with his pen. San Juan County, Utah has only 8% private land. The federal government already controls the overwhelming majority of the land in San Juan County (72%). The Utah State Legislature, all statewide elected leaders, congressional delegation, and the San Juan County Commission, including Native American County Commissioner Rebecca Benally, opposed this attack on their American Dream.
The schoolchildren of Utah suffer because of it. Included in the 1.5 million acres that President Obama locked up with his pen, are 109,000 acres of land owned by the schoolchildren of Utah. Because the federal government doesn’t pay taxes on 66% of the total Utah landmass that it controls, Utah is already the lowest in the nation in per-pupil funding. The federal government does pay, when, and if, it feels like it, a token payment called PILT, or Payment In Lieu of Taxes. Utahns, and Westerners, who understand the American recipe for peace and prosperity denied them by their own federal government, call this token PILT payment, Pennies In Lieu of Trillions.
Twenty years ago, President Clinton, with his pen, hit Garfield County, Utah with a 1.9 million acre national monument. Today, the timber, mining and ranching industries of Garfield County are dying on the vine. Faced with school closures from families moving away, Garfield County declared an economic state of emergency last year. If you were to ask Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock what the number one export of Garfield County is, he – along with county commissioners all around the West – will tell you, it’s their children!
Having secured independence from an unaccountable, centralized power, Thomas Jefferson’s founding associates penned a constitutional system “to secure the blessings of liberty” to themselves and their posterity. They knew, as President Reagan would later verbalize, that “as government expands, liberty contracts.”
For that very reason, they divided governing power between state and national governments (federalism), and among the three branches within each government (separation of powers). Under Article V of the Constitution, they invested state legislatures with the power to maintain and defend this liberty-protecting system. Under Article VI, every state legislator, as their first official act, swears a solemn oath to protect the voice of their people by maintaining and defending this system.
Article V provides two methods for proposing repairs and modifications to our system: 2/3rds of Congress can propose amendments, or 2/3rds of the states can apply for a convention of states to propose amendments. In either case, amendment proposals become part of the Constitution once ratified by 3/4ths of the states.
Congress has proposed amendments, which 27 times have been ratified. The states have never used the second method, which was included in the Constitution for the very purpose of limiting the power and scope of the national government.
Many now believe that Washington will never fix itself. Current governors Greg Abbott (TX) and Scott Walker (WI), and past governors Jeb Bush (FL), Bobby Jindal (LA), and Mike Huckabee (AR), along with many other prominent scholars and leaders around the nation, are embracing the Convention of States Project as the only solution big enough to restore governing balance; to make the voice of the people larger again and the role (and pen) of Washington smaller.
In a nation founded by a people determined to govern themselves, now is the time for their posterity to take up their Article V pen, repair and restore the divisions between their state and national governments, reestablish the American recipe, and again change the world.
Rep. Ken Ivory has served in the Utah House of Representatives since 2010. Ken is the Federalism Chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council and senior advisor to the Convention of States Project. He is known for his knowledge in federalism and public lands issues in the West.