By Representative John Piscopo
Originally posted by The Hill on October 21, 2013
The partial shutdown of the federal government came at a time when our nation is struggling to recover from a prolonged and painful recession. Watching from at times what must seem like the back of the theater, Americans see on the national stage a Congress divided by vitriolic rhetoric and a president who has failed to fully unite the American public behind his policies. It is a turbulent time for the American people.
Perhaps now is the time to remind Americans of the significance of state governments. While being heard by Congress seems like a monumental task, Americans can talk to—and be heard by—their local lawmakers. Local governments are best suited to address local issues, and together, a chorus of state lawmakers can elicit real change in a state’s direction and hold sway over the federal government.? ?The United States Constitution was designed with local governments in mind. The 10th Amendment gives power to the states and to the people and reminds all Americans they do have a seat at the table. And, while the federal government was shut down, state governments were open and fully functional. States have bills to pay, promises to keep and their constituents to serve.
Significant to state governments is their relationship with their citizens. State officials live and work among their constituents, and it is much harder to ignore the praises and protests of your constituents when they are your neighbors. This type of relationship is what keeps state governments accountable and helps them more easily reflect the needs of their residents. Governing from 2,000 miles away is a difficult task, and it is no wonder people say Congress and the Administration are detached from the rest of the nation: they physically are.
In 48 states, the law requires a balanced budget, and states’ taxation policies, education policies, environmental policies and other policies give them their own unique signatures. The beauty of state governments is not their similarities, but their differences. These differences give Americans the ability to make decisions on what is best community by community, from deciding in which state to live to which state to own a business. State governments provide choice for the American people, and those choices are what allow Americans to make decisions best suited for them.
State governments are representative of the government our founders envisioned: of the people, by the people and for the people. The first priority of state governments is to answer their residents, not the federal government. While it is true state lawmakers have come to impasses—Connecticut’s government shut down in the early nineties—the effects of a state shutdown are felt immediately and painfully, making state government shutdowns a particularly distasteful course for lawmakers. This shutdown marked the 18th time the federal government has shut down since 1976. Certainly it seems the federal government is willing to use the American people as a bargaining chip.
Perhaps it is time to remind the federal government of its purpose. If government is emblematic of the people it serves, then our federal government does not hold the American people in high regard. While there will always be differences in opinion, state governments show that regular compromise can be achieved and that opposing parties can work together. It is time the federal government looked to the states as models of leadership.
Piscopo is a state representative from Connecticut and serves as the National Chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council.