I walked into the feed room of my barn several days ago to begin the same tasks I have performed twice a day for nearly two years. As with any repitious work, it becomes easy to get lost in thought, unconsciously moving from one completed task to begin the next. This day was no exception as I flipped the top off of one of the row of feed containers and grabbed a bucket. Hearing action, the barn yard quickly came alive with the sound of impatient animals ready for breakfast.
With my mind only partially present, I bent down to grab my first big scoop of feed when my peripheral vision caught a slight motion next to my foot.
The details of what happened next aren’t fully clear to me. What I do know is I looked down and locked eyes with a snake who appeared to be none too happy that I disturbed his nap. It turned out to be a chicken snake, one of the often mentioned “good snakes” that eat rodents and pests. But at the precise moment my distant mind rushed back to meet my brain there wasn’t a spare second to evaluate the slithering trespassers intentions.
So, I screamed like a 10-year old girl with an uncharacteristic gravel falsetto and found myself 10-feet on the other side of the room in an instant. I had no idea that I still had the capability to move with such cat-like reflexes.
I regained my composure, dispatched the trespasser to safer accommodations and got on with my chores.
I couldn’t help but remember the old saying I’d heard numerous times from so many forced to go behind me to find something I’d been instructed to find but couldn’t:
“If it was a snake it woulda bit ya.”
The old saying is meant as a good-natured way to rouse someone to be more in tune with the task they are performing and aware of the tools they need and the obstacles they encounter. We are all capable from time to time of being oblivious to our surroundings for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes it’s a simple matter, as in my case that morning, of going through a mundane repetition. Other times however, the reason can be a lack of detailed understanding of the true depth of the task we face.
Grassroots Conservatives Need To Do More Than Point Out Political Failures. We Must Get To The Root Of The Problem.
Anyone who analyzes public policy will tell you the difficulty in getting people to pay attention long enough to understand the ramifications of administrative government. I spend a large portion of my time — when not feeding livestock — reading studies, government agency reports and a variety of white papers. The mere mention of such reading can cause some folks to break out in hives. They avoid it like the plague. It’s not an exciting thing that draws the attention of most of those who consider themselves to be politically astute. Horse race politics is, admittedly, much more fun.
But, if grassroots conservatives ever hope to reach the point where we can provide leadership on the challenges our state and country face today, we must remember the truth of another old adage we’ve been taught from a young age:
“The devil is in the details.”
If we aren’t prepared to communicate the details of how conservative governance would differ from the current pattern of political party controls then any conservative candidates who might fight successfully to win election will be immediately placed in an untenable position; namely, the position of having principles of which to translate into effectual policy reforms, with very little base of knowledge for support of those actions from the grassroots voters who put him or her in office.
This leaves not just our elected officials, but the entire grassroots movement vulnerable to being outflanked by opposition, and frankly it’s a key reason the movement has been divided and conquered before. There is way more to accomplishing results than becoming adept at the “X’s and O’s” of campaigning through an election cycle.
Watch For The Political Bait And Switch
One recent prime example is that of AFP in Mississippi deciding after the 2017 Mississippi Legislative Session to spend $10,000 on a “thank you campaign” for Lt. Governor Tate Reeves. Reeves was given credit by Americans For Prosperity’s Mississippi Chapter President Russ Latino for single-handedly killing legislation that would have adopted an internet sales tax.
However, what Latino and others don’t say is that the internet sales tax was already being implemented by the state Department of Revenue through an administrative rules change. There was a bill introduced in the state senate that would have stopped the DOR from proceeding and disallowed this from happening. But, the Lt. Governor saw to it that the bill restricting the bureaucracy from proceeding with the tax was also killed in committee.
End result: Mississippi’s implementation of an online sales tax is still alive and well. The legislative leadership did nothing to stop it.
Come state election time in 2019 you’ll probably hear a whole different story.
This hardly qualifies as someone who “fights tax increases” as AFP would have us believe. It does, however, qualify as someone fighting to keep the people’s elected representatives from doing the job they were elected to do, yet finding a way to claim a personal political victory in the process.
Meanwhile, the internet taxation continues through the Department of Revenue unabated, effectively taken out of public view by AFP Mississippi and their desire to promote the Lt. Governor and tap into his political donor base.
When I pointed this out, even some of those active in the conservative grassroots in Mississippi bristled at the thought that someone would “attack” AFP for their efforts. Unfortunately, when shown the truth of how implementation of the tax was not halted and that the action was purely political, many of these same would-be conservative champions simply disappeared from the conversation altogether rather than come to grips with the truth.
For another example we have to go back to the 2015 Legislative Session. A coalition of conservative groups from across the state came together to kill a bill championed in the state senate as a way to provide the public a voice in stopping Common Core. The bill did nothing of the sort. It only provided for the appointment of a committee to make recommendations to the Department of Education and the Board of Education, but allowed the state education agency to simply ignore these recommendations.
The bill passed the senate, but thanks to grassroots pressure through some coalition building it was vetoed by the governor.
Some have since questioned the effort insisting that the committee of political appointees would have “at least” provided a voice. But, this position ignores completely the fact that it is those politicians making appointments to the committee who have allowed the bureaucracy to grow in power to begin with. Hiding the entire thing behind the political cover of a committee with no real power only serves to offer another layer to the bureaucratic milieu that further isolates itself from public scrutiny.
One need only look for evidence in the fact that legislation has been introduced year after year since to get rid of Common Core but hasn’t been allowed to see the light of day in the Mississippi Legislature.
This construction of a barrier between the government and the will of the governed is exactly the thing conservative efforts should be laser focused on doing away with.
Playing Footsie With Administrative State
Before he left the Trump administration, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon famously vowed to “deconstruct” the administrative state—the collection of bureaucrats, agencies, and unelected rule-making bodies who govern more and more of our lives.
And with many of the appointments President Donald Trump has made, it appears that this deconstructive effort is being attempted. But, it’s a difficult task with political players working hard to misdirect the publics attention, and working to undermine the administration itself.
“The administrative state is the leading threat to civil liberties of our era,” Philip Hamburger tells Reason in a new interview. Hamburger is the Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and author of the recent books, Is Administrative Law Unlawful? (2015) and The Administrative Threat (2017). “We have a system of government in which our laws are made by the folks that we elect, and these laws are enforced by judges and juries in the courts, but we have within that an administrative state, a state that acts really by mere command and not through law.”
Here’s one of my key takeaways from the interview with Hamburger. He is commenting on the legal professions complicity in allowing the threat to the foundations of the law to exist. But it’s a problem of cutting corners that all of us in a self-governed society are guilty of allowing to happen:
“The danger is not someone other than ourselves. It lies within us. It’s the fibs we tell ourselves that, unfortunately, the judges have come to believe. They’ve come to believe that you don’t really need jury rights with administrative hearings, that due process is satisfied by an administrative process, that a rule is really no different than an enacted statute.
“So, what we need to do is just actually be honest. An administrative rule is not a statute adopted by our representatives, and it is not legally binding. It’s a mere command; a mere edict. An administrative adjudication has no due process as was originally understood — due process comes from the courts — it has no jury.
“When judges go out of their way to accommodate all this they end up corrupting their own processes, because they end up being biased about the law and the facts.”
This is exactly what happened at the Mississippi Department of Revenue in a case involving Equifax in 2012. The case ended up provoking legislative action two years later that changed how the agency adjudicates its own rulings. It was a small change that should have opened the floodgates for more changes across the board to how all state agencies remove their actions from the scrutiny of the public eye. After all, the fact that any department would be allowed through an administrative law judge to pass judgement on its own ruling is a ludicrous development to begin with. But unfortunately nothing of the sort of reform needed across agencies occurred.
It’s rulings like these and politicians inability to pass sweeping reforms to “deconstruct” the administrative state that is the real threat to liberty today. And it’s as real a threat in state government in Mississippi as it is in Washington DC. It’s why we all hear so much about state agencies in the news today regarding contracts they have awarded. We’ll likely hear more as the performance contracts they have signed are brought to light for the ridiculous lack of stipulations they include and the lack of oversight they have received.
Grassroots activists may have a hard time outfitting their organizations to face the threat. The grassroots is organized for battle on the political front, not around the need to address the lack of government transparency.
But, if conservatives hope to successfully move from winning political contests to winning policy reforms, it’s a necessity that cannot be ignored.
This is where the real fight for self-governance and liberty ultimately leads. We had better be ready. Winning elections is what gets us to the starting line. It’s not the end of the race and there are a lot of powerful people making a ton of money from the scheme ready to throw more and more obstacles in our way.
Just like the snake hidden laying quietly within inches of where I mindlessly worked my daily tasks that early October morning, there are more than a few hiding in plain sight in government today, living well off of the contracts and fees of government agencies and lobbying lawmakers to keep appropriating money and keep looking the other way.
While we go about the business of trying to win elections, we would do well to watch for where the snakes lie and take note of the future needs for dealing with the infestations.