July 14, 2017
"to elevate the condition of
men--to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the
paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all an unfettered
start and a fair chance, in the race of life." --Abraham Lincoln
Chairman's Note: Saving
Communities with Federalism
How strong are America's
communities? Sadly, we know from decades of research, including
work by the Social Capital Project, that they are growing weaker.
Men and women are having fewer
children in total, and they are also having fewer children within
wedlock. Between 1970 and 2015, births to single mothers rose
from 11 percent of all births to 40 percent.
Americans are spending less time
in religious communities. Church attendance and trust in
organized religion have dropped sharply since the early 1970s.
Americans also participate less
in secular voluntary associations such as the Boy Scouts and
Rotary International-groups that historically have brought
together people from different walks of life.
The destruction of community life
is a spiritual crisis for millions. They have been severed from
local institutions that give meaning to the soul.
What caused this? There are of
course many culprits, but much of the blame goes to the federal
government, which has intruded into aspects of life that used to
be the sole domain of civil society.
As scholar Robert Nisbet
observed, government crowds out civic groups by competing with
them to perform similar social functions. Robbed of purpose by a
competitor they cannot outspend, these civic groups wither,
leaving behind an empty public square.
The challenge we face today is
rebuilding our communities, which will require us to reverse
century-old trends toward centralization. We need to stop
investing in Washington, and reinvest in the places we came from.
Unlike our current season of
national outrage, a turn toward localism stands a chance of
actually yielding a happier, healthier republic.
First of all, a renewed focus on
local governance would lower the stakes of political conflict.
Given the shared values within
most communities, decisions made at lower levels of government
are more likely to be consensus decisions. And when problems
arise within communities, local politicians are better situated
to hear stakeholders' concerns.
A renewed focus on local
governance would also encourage innovation in public policy.
States are referred to as the "laboratories of democracy," but
often they are not free to experiment because the federal
government imposes one "solution" from above.
Instead of laboratories, the
states are treated as lab rats.
This is a risky way to make
policy. Top-down solutions are an all-or-nothing bet, with
catastrophic in the case of failure.
"Instead of laboratories, the
states are treated as lab rats."
Federalism offers a better way
here as well. It allows states to tailor policies to their
But there is one more reason we
need a renewed commitment to local governance. It has to do with
something at the core of our national project: Self-government.
The populist movements that are
marching on Washington are motivated, in part, by a sense that
they are being disregarded by their leaders.
This loss of control and respect
is an indignity-a reversal of the American social compact, which
puts the people in charge. And it began with the decline of
self-governing local communities that give meaningful roles to
As usual, Tocqueville put it
best. He wrote that "the township, at the center of the ordinary
relations of life, serves as a field for the desire of public
He understood that men and women
desire esteem, and that for the vast majority of people esteem
is earned close to home through service to others.
That is the true beauty of
localism. Hundreds of years after the Founding, it still offers
our country the best way forward.
Click here to watch video
Issue in Focus: Ending Obama's
National Zoning Board
On July 16, 2015, President
Obama's Department of Housing and Urban Development issued an
innocuous-sounding new regulation that it said would "promote
fair housing choice and foster inclusive communities that are
free from discrimination."
This "Affirmatively Furthering
Fair Housing" rule supposedly would only assist local communities
by providing them with more data needed to comply with the Fair
Housing Act of 1968.
What the regulation really did,
however, was empower unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington,
D.C. with the tools to act as a national zoning board.
Under the new housing rule, HUD
would review fair housing plans created by state and local
governments using data created and stored by the federal
government. HUD could then withhold federal grant money from
state and local governments if it thought the plans were
This new process would give HUD
the power to control zoning laws in virtually every community in
the country. The federal government could selectively starve
local governments of resources if it doesn't like where they are
approving new apartment complexes.
In a July 2015 article in the
Washington Times, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said that the
department's attempts to "legislate racial equality create
consequences that often make matters worse." I couldn't agree
That is why Representative Gosar
and I sent a letter signed by several colleagues to Secretary
Carson this Friday asking him to fully rescind the July 2015 AFFH
"It is critical that we pursue
real, sensible reforms to reduce poverty and improve the
opportunities available to lower-income citizens at the local
level," the letter reads.
361A Russell Senate
Salt Lake City
Wallace F. Bennett
125 South State,
Salt Lake City, UT
Office of Senator
Michael S. Lee
285 West Tabernacle,
St. George, UT 84770
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