The following was written by Myles Culbertson and originally published in the Santa Fe New Mexican.
In 1979, I was one of a couple dozen young cattlemen from across the country meeting in Washington, D.C., with the secretary of agriculture and his senior staff. That morning, they made it clear that the interest of America’s agricultural producers was no longer their focus.
We were taken aback by their condescension while the secretary, the president’s man in the room, sat timid and compliant. I raised my hand: “This is an election year, so what happens if the sitting president doesn’t return?” A career administrator rudely pointed at the secretary, “It doesn’t matter who is sitting in that chair. We are who run the department, and we’re not going anywhere.” It appears he was mistaken. A new president was indeed elected, and apparently this official had earned the attention of more than just our little bunch of cowboys. I learned he finished his career at a minor border crossing in Minnesota.
What we saw in 1979 was an aggressive acceleration of the administrative state that has, since then, grown unaccountable, with its own executive, legislative and judicial functions. I have been privileged to work with many dedicated federal professionals, true public servants who do their country proud.
However, their departments have grown out of control, with appetites demanding hundreds of billions of dollars from a Congress whose legislation reads more like platitudes than laws, providing funding with nonexistent dollars and instructing the agencies to make their own rules.
Career politicians simply write the hot check and hurry off to the next fashionable topic, casting accountability and restraint aside. The results are both predictable and suffocating. In 1979, the national debt was $827 billion (31 percent of the gross domestic product). Today it is $20.4 trillion (107 percent of GDP). Prosperity strangles while government continues to grow, regulate, dominate and “spend like a drunken sailor” as I used to say, until an old sailor reminded me that in his day, when he ran out of money, he would quit drinking.
Who on either end of the political spectrum in 1979 would have believed that, less than 40 years later, regulation would have such a stranglehold, or the direct national debt would exceed the country’s gross national product, or the unfunded liabilities added in would increase that obligation by a factor of five, or that a pandering, self-dealing Congress, more concerned with career than country, would allow any of this?
But, here we are in 2017, facing all of it. An America cast into permanent decline seems inevitable; however, the Constitution’s framers, anticipating a Congress unwilling to quash the self-interested motives of its members, gave the states the authority to bypass Congress. Under the Constitution, two-thirds of the legislatures can bring together a national convention to propose amendments that would have to be ratified by at least 38 states.
A movement is underway for a convention, under Article V of the Constitution, to consider amendments to impose fiscal restraint, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and set term limits on federal officials. More than 3 million citizens have joined the effort, and 12 states have passed resolutions calling for a convention. Another 30 are in play.
By invoking Article V, Americans can require accountability from those who were sent to serve, not to rule. Those in the deep-rooted political and administrative establishment may presently believe they are not going anywhere but, like the fellow who sat out his career at that remote Minnesota border crossing, they ought not be so secure about where they think they are not going. Information on the Convention of States Project can be found at www.conventionofstates.com.
Myles Culbertson’s background includes agriculture, banking, international trade, economic and technological development, regulation and law enforcement. He lives in Las Cruces.