When it comes to federal-state relations, we suppose Arizona Republicans figure they have nothing to lose by posturing against the feds. After all, there’s a Democrat in the White House.
But the situation has clearly gotten out of hand. GOP legislators aren’t just wagging fingers, a la Gov. Jan Brewer. They’re requiring legislative staff to draft actual bills, then hold hearings that cost money as well as time.
And when some of the bills get signed by Brewer, taxpayers get stuck paying for legal defenses against claims of unconstitutionality — almost all of which the state has lost.
If the Republicans were consistent in their defense of self-determination, at least Arizona cities like Flagstaff could rest easier in the knowledge lawmakers would leave them alone. But just the opposite has taken place in recent years as the Republican majority has played Big Brother to municipalities in setting local election dates, gun laws and rules for traffic cameras.
As a result, it’s difficult not to conclude that Republicans are simply playing obstructionist politics with federal laws and programs they don’t like, including voter registration, health insurance, immigration and wolf reintroduction.
Attacking federal property, prerogatives
Some of the bills are a frontal assault on federal property and prerogatives. One that passed the Senate last year said Arizonans should have the right “to reject a federal action that the people determine violates the United States Constitution.” State Sen. Chester Crandell has long wanted Arizona to take over most federal lands within state boundaries — never mind how the state would pay to manage 25 million acres (minus military bases, national parks and Indian reservations).
The GOP has also wanted to take over immigration enforcement, a plan ruled unconstitutional (yes, the clause in SB1070 allowing police to ask about immigration status was upheld, but the law is still enforced by INS).
Now, there’s a bill to let ranchers kill an endangered Mexican gray wolf suspected of harming cattle — no questions asked. That’s also outside the Legislature’s purview — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service runs the wolf reintroduction program. (And don’t most Arizona ranchers have at least some of their grazing rights on federal lands?)
Sometimes, the GOP is content just to play obstructionist. If a federal agent wants to collect information or inspect a mine, Crandell wants him to check in with the local sheriff first, get a permit and pay a fee. We’d believe Crandell were sincere in his “Stay out of our business” claim if it also applied to a city that wanted, say, a state gas station or cash register inspector to check in with the local police chief first. Otherwise, could it be that Crandell simply doesn’t like the fines that federal mine safety inspectors have been handing out lately?
Most Republicans are also intent on obstructing so-called “Obamacare” since they have had little success in curtailing or repealing it. Arizona Republicans have refused to set up a health insurance policy exchange, so the feds have done it for them. Now, lawmakers want to require so-called “navigators’ — counselors who help people get insurance through the exchanges — to be licensed by the state after passing a background check. Not that any complaints of identity theft or other problems have surfaced so far.
What has surfaced is a pattern of states that have opted out of the federal exchanges in opposition to Obamacare enacting cumbersome navigator requirements — at least one federal judge has suspended them as an unlawful interference with a federal program. Putting state roadblocks in the way of health agencies attempting to help citizens use the federal exchange is transparently political. Would Republicans have imposed the same burdens if Arizona had set up its own exchange?
Many state legislatures simply don’t allow such bills to be drafted — they are transparently unconstitutional. Such assertions of state jurisdiction set up a conflict for political purposes — there is no policy outcome except a lawsuit. At the least, it hinders the effective delivery of government services while it is being litigated.
Worse, demonizing federal employees for the sake of making a political point — it’s the policies the state disagrees with — can endanger their safety, as we’ve seen in other western states.
Such attitudes also can endanger ordinary citizens. As Paul Bender, a constitutional law professor at Arizona state University’s law school, told the Associated Press:
“These kinds of statements that we’re free from federal law, don’t obey this federal law, can be really dangerous,” Bender said. “If they rely on what the Legislature says, they might end up committing a federal crime. If they want to express that feeling they should just pass a resolution — but when they’re telling people they don’t have to obey a federal law, that’s dangerous.”