Principle Matters – Political Power vs. Policy Power

There is exactly one thing standing between the American people and the type of government the founders of the nation envisioned. That one thing? For members of Congress to do their job!

For far too long Congress has ceded its authority to the executive branch and the regulatory state. Why has so much power shifted from the legislative branch to the executive branch? Because members of Congress have decided to abdicate authority in order to avoid accountability. Less accountability makes re-election much easier.

My former boss, Senator Mike Lee, uses a simple example to illustrate: Members of Congress love to pass bills with inspiring names, such as the “We shall have clean air” act. (Because after all, who is going to vote for dirty air?) Then within the bill Congress transfers all authority to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to decide what clean air is, what it isn’t, how to comply with the law and what the penalties will be for violations. Further, Congress allows EPA to be the judge, jury and executioner of law. There are no checks and balances for potentially outrageous and overly burdensome regulations or excessive penalties.

When an individual or company is being hurt by these regulations and they rush to a member of Congress for help or relief, the representative can say, “Hey, don’t yell at me, I just voted for clean air. You will have to go complain to the EPA.” Then that individual or company has to go to someone at EPA who is not elected by or accountable to the citizens. When Congress abdicates its policy power to federal bureaucrats, it rarely ends well for the American people.

On the other hand, we also have too many so-called leaders in Washington who are more concerned about maintaining their political power than using their constitutional policy power in conjunction with their power of the purse. Such leaders distract and even discourage the general public with fake fights, false choices and a steady stream of divisive drama. Political power seekers know that if the American people believe that we are too divided as a nation to solve a problem, it gives Congress the excuse to do nothing and the executive branch an excuse to do whatever the president wants through executive order. The result is that power, money and influence stay with Congress, along with the wealthy and well-connected. We need to demand more from Washington.

Congress abdicating policy power and obsessing on political power has weakened the checks and balances within our republic, fostered dysfunction within government, and rightly fueled public frustration toward elected officials. Congress caused this mess, and only Congress can clean it up by reasserting its power and proper role. By putting Congress back in charge of making and funding federal policy, we can once again put the American people back in charge of their government – as it should be.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Outrage, riots and knowing where you’re going

It is so easy to get swept away in the fog, rhetorical riptides and tweet storms of the digital age. Leaders can overwhelm the public with a whirlwind of words designed to distract and confuse – often leaving citizens wondering where in the world we are. If we do not know where we currently are, it is impossible for us to chart a course to where we truly want to go.

Long years ago, before cell phones, Google Maps and GPS systems, I was on a speaking tour in Ireland. On the first day of my tour I was scheduled to speak to corporate executives at a company in Cork. I set out for the speech with a very specific and detailed old-school map. I immediately encountered several ring roads and roundabouts, and soon had no idea where I was. After about 20 minutes of wandering through the Irish countryside, I realized that this was not a good use of my time and I did the hard thing: I bit my ego and pulled into a little gas station at the side of the road to ask for directions. Map in hand, I went in and asked the man behind the counter, “Where am I?” The man obviously knew I was a foreigner, because he just flashed me a big Irish grin and said, “Why, you’re in Ireland don’t you know!” I then tossed the map at him and asked, “Where am I on the map?” Once the attendant pointed to our specific location I had no problem navigating my way to my speaking engagement. By stopping to figure out where I was, or what the present reality was, I was better able to chart the right course to my desired destination.

Before a critical debate in the United States Congress, Daniel Webster said: “Mr. President, when the mariner has been tossed about for many days in thick weather on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun to take his latitude and ascertain where he is in relation to his desired course. Let us imitate this prudence and before we float on the waves of this debate refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to surmise where we now are.”

As a nation we have been through some thick weather and tossed about, to say the least. Here are a few areas where I believe we need to figure out where we really are before we start to try and solve the problems:

Education

Regulation

National division

Poverty

Criminal justice

Federal lands

Health care

(Just to name a few …)

Before the American people and our elected representatives float on the waves of debate on these critical issues, let’s stop and determine where we are today.

By specifically identifying our present reality we will be able to chart the best possible course to reach our desired destination as a nation.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Opioid epidemic in Utah

In Utah, and across the nation, we have seen the rise of an opioid epidemic that continues to explode exponentially. It is a topic we have been uncomfortable discussing, but is clearly an issue that must be discussed.

There have been a few legislators locally and nationally who have tackled the opioid epidemic head on. We applaud their efforts – and recognize that there is much more that needs to be done.

In some ways America’s approach to the opioid problem is similar to the famous poem written by Joseph Malin in 1895 titled, “The Ambulance Down in the Valley.” You remember the story of the tiny town, which boasted of a mountain lookout with magnificent views of the valley. While the scenes were spectacular, the cliff was unacceptably dangerous. Many local citizens and passing visitors alike had tragically fallen from the cliff to the valley below.

Some of the citizens in the town advocated for putting a fence around the cliff, but others more persuasively made the case for simply parking an ambulance down below in the valley.

“For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful,” they said,

“And, if folks even slip and are dropping,

It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much

As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”

So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,

Quick forth would these rescuers sally;

To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,

With their ambulance down in the valley.

So, the citizens relied on the ambulance to deal with the ever-present and potentially lethal problem.

Then an old sage remarked: “It is a marvel to me

That people give far more attention

To repairing results than to stopping the cause,

When they’d much better aim at prevention.

Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he,

“Come neighbors and friends, let us rally;

If the cliffs we will fence we might almost dispense

With the ambulance down in the valley.”

As it relates to our opioid cliff, we have added many new tools to the ambulance down in the valley, including vital overdose-reversing injections, needle exchanges, and counseling and rehabilitation programs for those who have become addicted. Unfortunately, we have done far too little to build the fence at the top of the cliff. It is time for a fence-building discussion between families, churches, legislators, doctors, health care providers and drug companies.

The opioid cliff is but one ledge where we would be wise to focus more on fence-building instead of ambulance production. Many of our state and federal programs designed to deal with poverty, homelessness, long-term unemployment, health care and hunger have spawned fleets of ambulances parked in the valley of government assistance.

As James Malin concluded, “To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best

To prevent other people from falling.”

We must get better at building fences in our communities, and when appropriate through government. In areas where we lack effective solutions, it is usually because we avoided the uncomfortable conversation.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Utah ranks #1 for family prosperity

A joint project by Sutherland Institute and the American Conservative Union Foundation found Utah ranks first in the nation according to the Family Prosperity Index, or FPI. The FPI measures more than 50 of the economic and social factors that indicate family prosperity, including but not limited to marriage and divorce rates, crime rates, STD rates and household income. A state that scores well on the FPI is one that is moving toward the goal of creating family prosperity. 

This new study found Utah dominates the 2016 Family Prosperity Index, not only ranking at the top but also holding commanding leads over the second-ranked state and the national average. In fact, Utah’s FPI score has increased by 3.6 percent over the last five indexes – from 7.12 in 2012 to 7.38 in 2016. The FPI national average is normalized at 5.0. 

 

 

From Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson:

“Of all the awards and accolades Utah has received, this may very well be the most significant. While Utah has long recognized family as a critical social engine, this report illustrates the power of the family as an economic engine. Lawmakers would be wise to recognize that just as a strong economy helps families, strong families strengthen economies.” 

From Sutherland Institute Director of Public Policy Derek Monson:

“Rather than measuring and ranking a stand-alone niche of Utah’s economy that many never see or experience, the Family Prosperity Index measures whether Utah’s economic prosperity is reaching Utah’s families, and how Utah’s families are driving Utah’s economic prosperity. Clearly, Utah has room to improve in its most populous county when it comes to the related issues of drug use and suicide – and these are critically important things that demand our attention. But Utahns can be proud in our understanding that we lead the nation economically because we lead the nation in how we create, build and devote ourselves to our families, and by extension our communities.”

From American Conservative Union Foundation Chairman Matt Schlapp: 

“The Family Prosperity Index provides a blueprint for creating an environment for families to flourish, and Utah, with its No. 1 rank on the 2016 FPI, has set the standard for the rest of the country. I hope leaders across the county will come to understand the factors driving Utah’s success and use the FPI as a tool to expand prosperity in their own states.”

Notes: 

  • Six indexes (and their corresponding sub-indexes) make up the FPI: Economics, Demographics, Family Self-Sufficiency, Family Structure, Family Culture, and Family Health. All sub-indexes can be viewed in the attachment.
  • Utah takes the lead in every index aside from Economics, where North Dakota comes in first. This data was impacted by North Dakota’s fracking boom, which has since slowed.
  • An area of concern for Utah includes the drop in the Family Health index caused by the self-mortality sub-index, which consists of suicide and drug overdoses as a percent of population. Utah has higher-than-average rates.
  • Additionally, a county-level FPI analysis raises alarms for Salt Lake County. Negative trends are noted when it comes to children in poverty, violent crime rate, property crime rate, the level of married taxpayers, and unwed child birth.

 

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Op-ed: Bears Ears Monument runs counter to American ideals

Originally published in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Earlier this week, news broke that President Barack Obama intends to lock up wide swaths of Utah’s public lands by designating 1.4 to 1.9 million acres as the Bears Ears National Monument.

It appears that Utahns’ calls – from our entire congressional delegation, Gov. Gary Herbert, the state Legislature, local Native American groups and all of San Juan County’s commissioners and city councils – for the president to stay his hand have fallen on deaf and apathetic ears.

Unfortunately, such action is not a new phenomenon but has played out time and again as presidents across the political spectrum have imposed their will through an unjust and un-American law.

Since 1906, all but three presidents have used the Antiquities Act to bypass congressional and local opposition to designate national monuments. These presidential proclamations secure their signers’ place in history through the political speeches, bronze plaques and fanfare surrounding them. What history neglects to reflect, however, is that such unilateral designations fly in the face of the democratic process and often hurt rural communities.

The turn of the 20th century saw widespread destruction, looting and desecration of our nation’s historical sites and natural wonders. In an attempt to preserve these cultural resources, President Theodore Roosevelt and Congress acted collaboratively to pass the Antiquities Act. In addition to making the disturbance or destruction of our nation’s cultural resources illegal and punishable by a fine and imprisonment, it also gave the president authority to set aside national monuments with just the stroke of a pen. These designations were to be “confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” While the intent to preserve and protect our nation’s treasures was pure, this legislation subverted the democratic process and paved the way for presidential abuse.

In recent decades the good intentions of the Antiquities Act have been abused and exploited to promote self-interest and engage in political gamesmanship. National monument designations have become a way for presidents to leave their mark on history and gain favor with environmental groups. These accolades encourage presidents to deviate from historical norms and designate more monuments of greater and greater size. According to National Park Service data, newly designated monuments averaged 15,573 acres in 1906. National monuments designated in 2016 average 715,258 acres – more than 45 times the size of those created 110 years ago. The power that was intended to protect limited areas has turned into a mechanism for presidents to glorify their names. This mentality shows little care for the interests of the rural communities that neighbor national monuments and of the people who are most impacted by their creation.

For example, President Bill Clinton’s 1.7-million-acre designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah’s Kane and Garfield counties has economically devastated the region. A once-thriving ranching industry is becoming a shadow of its former self. Twenty years after the designation, the number of animals grazing on the monument has declined by almost a third, corresponding with lost jobs and an annual loss to the local economy of more than $9 million. For the small rural counties of Kane and Garfield, whose combined population numbers less than 15,000, this has had a profound and lasting impact.

Those ranchers still in the area face an uphill battle. They struggle to extend or move water lines within their allotments, fence riparian areas, maintain roads or take other necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of their livestock. This has slowly pushed cattle off the range and ranchers off the land their families have worked for generations. In 2015, Garfield County was forced to declare an economic and scholastic state of emergency, as many of its residents have left seeking employment elsewhere.

Such economic loss is not unique to southeastern Utah. It has played out across the West time and again alongside national monument designations. It can, however, be avoided in the future by incorporating the democratic process into monument designations through congressional oversight and local input.

The protection of our nation’s historic, cultural and natural resources is among the noblest of pursuits. However, turning our backs on the democratic process to do so undermines who we are as Americans. Despite what extreme environmental groups may preach, representation and conservation are not mutually exclusive. Checks and balances have produced principled and cooperative legislation for more than two centuries, and land policy does not have to be an exception.

Adding the voices of locals and their representatives who care for and love public lands the most will improve the monument designation process by mitigating the selfish disregard that presidents have shown for rural Americans. This is about more than just land; it is about people — and about preserving the ideals on which our nation was built.

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Op-ed: Community-based solutions — A new vision of self-government

Originally published in the Deseret News.

At times, this election season has seemed like an exercise in how to most effectively undermine our national motto of e pluribus unum (“out of many, one”). Caustic rhetoric has alienated and divided voters nationwide, creating an environment that has made finding agreement on important issues like energy, the environment and public land management unnecessarily difficult.

But with the passing of Election Day comes the opportunity to move beyond failed politics and divisive mudslinging, toward elevated dialogue grounded in American principles and values, shared around dinner tables, across the fence with neighbors and in town meetings with locally elected officials. In these critical issue areas, that dialogue — and the practical solutions it generates — can be found by achieving community-driven solutions.

Community-driven solutions require a federal government that recognizes the harm that one-size-fits-all bureaucratic mandates do to people. Standardized mandates from Washington, D.C., crush cultural, social and economic diversity in local communities by elevating the interests of one group over another. Community-driven solutions embrace that diversity through balanced solutions that recognize the value and contributions of everyone in the community.

One-size-fits-all mandates stifle innovation by forcing all members of a community to conform to a rule determined by decision-makers thousands of miles away. Community-driven solutions recognize that innovative thinking, informed by people on the ground who understand local conditions and circumstances, is the best way to find solutions that both protect the environment and strengthen the economy.

Federal bureaucratic mandates demand that communities bow to the will of government. Community-driven solutions empower communities so that their government reflects the people’s will.

In energy, community-driven solutions means policies like the Re-empowerment of the States Amendment — giving states authority to block economic regulations that would be harmful to the men and women that they represent. It means devolving full authority over energy rules — such as the Clean Power Plan — from federal to state and local governments, trusting in the American principle that government closest to the people governs best.

In the environmental realm, community-driven solutions mean recognizing that local residents and decision-makers are best situated to know how to protect wildlife, conserve natural resources and encourage clean air and water. It means embracing the principle that no one has a stronger economic, environmental or cultural interest in protecting the beauty of natural landscapes and wilderness than the people who must live with the consequences of those decisions.

In public land management, community-driven solutions mean transferring the ability and authority to manage public lands to those whose livelihoods, communities and cultural heritage are rooted in the health and well-being of those lands. It means reforming laws like the Antiquities Act — which enables a single federal executive to restrict access and use of huge swaths of public land — so that local individuals representing a diversity of interests in public lands play the primary role in approving and managing national monuments.

In other words, community-driven solutions mean self-government — the foundational principle of the American model of government. This principle is the foundation of an elevated dialogue and practical solutions in the areas of energy production, environmental conservation and public land management. By applying the principle of self-government, we can move beyond a politics of Pyrrhic victories and ideological extremes to a system that actually protects the cultural diversity, economic prosperity and the natural beauty in our communities.

Those are outcomes we can all agree on.

Dallas, Louisiana, Minnesota—and you

To see Boyd Matheson deliver this via a Facebook Live video, click here.

The horrific and senseless scenes from the tragedy in Dallas, combined with officer-involved deaths in Minnesota and Louisiana, bring us as a nation to stand in front of the mirror of evaluation.  Questions will be rightly raised in the days ahead about race relations in America, criminal justice reform, law enforcement, Second Amendment rights, police and community trust and many, many others.

We should also ask some questions individually, as communities and as a country. Who are we? What have we become? What will we be in the future? Do the brutal and despicable acts of the few taint the scores of good and honorable individuals or are they simply a reflection of where we are headed?

Many Americans have responded by sharing on social media Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Do we need to hug it out as a nation? YES! But that is not enough. Do we need to talk it out as communities? YES! But that is not enough. Do we need to listen it out with people who are different from us?  YES! But we will need more. We need a new dialogue, a new focus and a new direction for our interaction as a society.

Many Americans have expressed a sense of being powerless in the face of the tragedies of Dallas, Minnesota and Louisiana. And that is exactly what the evil and undermining forces want you to feel. You may feel powerless – but you are not. You may be asking yourself, “What can I possibly do?” We must recognize and remember that individually and collectively we are immensely powerful.

We often look to the greatest generation who rose up in a time of war to unite the nation, preserve freedom and provide a place where individuals, families and communities could thrive and prosper. The greatest generation showed just what a united America can do when everyone sacrifices, everyone gives something up, everyone helps a neighbor in need, everyone looks for the good in people, everyone discovers opportunities to make a difference.

Like the greatest generation – we too are being asked to rise up in a time of war. The war we face is different – but the consequences are every bit as real.

We face a battle against the MYTH that we are too divided as a nation to confront and defeat the challenging issues of our day. 

We are at war with the idea that we are so divided as a nation that we have no choice but to retreat to our classes, races and special interests.

Lincoln asked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

So, what can each of us do individually? A lot! You are immensely powerful. Strident voices tell us that our society is sick and broken beyond repair. Remember, though we are individuals, together we create our culture, our society and our future.

At times such as this we often quote great leaders like Lincoln and Dr. King. We need to stop just talking about them, and start acting like them. 

What can you do? Act on these questions:

What am I sending out in my words and rhetoric?

Am I reaching out in positive ways?

What will I do today to strengthen my family and community?

Do I treat those different from me with respect and kindness?

Am I engaged in elevated dialogue?

Do I listen with an open heart and mind?

Will I admit when I am wrong?

Do I seek to serve?

Am I a good example to my children, friends and neighbors?

If we all would act on one of those questions – TODAY – we would begin to the heal the wounds in our families, neighborhoods and nation. Government is not, cannot and should not be big enough to solve these issues.

We commit to honor those we have lost by our actions, not just our words.  We pray that those who are left behind to mourn and carry on will be blessed and strengthened. We will decide that as individuals our better angels will prevail.  We will decide that our communities will become more heroic.  We will decide to celebrate the strength that comes from our diversity and our commitment to the values that are the bedrock of our nation. E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.  “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal.”

We invite every American to be “here highly resolved that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”

For all of us at Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson.  Thank you.

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A vision of love and community

Here’s a great column in The Atlantic by Michael R. Strain on how love and community can save conservatism.

Many on the right correctly emphasize individual liberty, but they do not emphasize what conservatism knows to be true: It is in community that people learn how to be free.

[Rep. Paul] Ryan argued that “the federal government has a role to play” with respect to community, but that “it’s a supporting role, not the leading one.” This is generally true. Government should distance itself enough from the individual that civil society — which exists in the space between government and citizen — can flourish. Speaking generally, government should help support these institutions, but it should not do their work for them.

But this is not to say that a communitarian ethic should be absent from politics and public policy — quite the opposite. Proceeding with a spirit of community would help conservatives formulate and support better policies. Let’s discuss a few.

This is the kind of conservatism we want, the kind that would improve life in Utah – or anywhere. Read the rest of this article here.

Photo credit: Sarah Stierch via Wikimedia Commons

As war begins: a vivid glimpse of Pearl Harbor in 1941

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For seven ghastly, confused days, we have been at war. To the women of Hawaii, it has meant a total disruption of home life, a sudden acclimation to blackout nights, terrifying rumors, fear of the unknown as planes drone overhead and lorries shriek through the streets.

The seven days may stretch to seven years, and the women of Hawaii will have to accept a new routine of living. It is time, now, after the initial confusion and terror have subsided, to sum up the events of the past week, to make plans for the future.

It would be well, perhaps, to review the events of the past seven days and not minimize the horror, to better prepare for what may come again.

The words above were written by a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Elizabeth P. McIntosh, a week after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. She explained, “After a week of war, I wrote a story directed at Hawaii’s women; I thought it would be useful for them to know what I had seen.”

But her editors pulled the story, fearing it was too graphic. It was finally published 71 years later, in 2012, in The Washington Post.

Two weeks ago, I was at Pearl Harbor, thinking about the Japanese attack and its consequences. It’s tempting to view World War II now with a sort of nostalgia, since we know how it all ended, with the Allies finally triumphant. But looking at the harbor, I tried to imagine what it was like at the time, when it was reality and not history, and McIntosh’s story gives me a glimpse of that.

To 21st-century eyes, her account is hardly graphic. But it is immediate and terrifying, conveying a vivid sense of “what’s next?” and the rumors that must have flown from person to person.

Read it here (includes video) at The Washington Post.

Be ‘warriors’ for social justice, Mike Lee and Arthur Brooks tell audience at Sutherland event

Sen. Mike Lee speaks at Sutherland dinner in Salt Lake City on Oct. 1, 2014. (Photo © Sutherland Institute)

Sen. Mike Lee speaks at Sutherland dinner in Salt Lake City on Oct. 1, 2014. (Photo © Sutherland Institute)

Is social justice a conservative cause? Yes, absolutely.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, explained why it’s not just a cause, but a moral imperative, last night at a Sutherland Institute dinner in Salt Lake City.

Brooks told the group gathered at La Jolla Groves that conservatives who want to improve social justice cannot be elitist about the type of work considered “worthy.”

“All work is blessed.”

If you believe in fighting to improve life for poor and middle-class families, you cannot believe that trimming a hedge is less valuable than managing a hedge fund, he said.

Sen. Lee said that because nearly every strategy in the “war on poverty” has failed to achieve true societal change, conservatives need to summon the courage to lead this fight with new strategies.

“Defenders of today’s status quo say that any critique of our welfare system is really just a thinly-veiled attempt to destroy the social safety net. But what we all should want – and what I certainly do want – is not to destroy the safety net, but to make it work.”

America’s complicated tax code, health care and justice system hurt working families, Sen. Lee said. “Our justice system tears apart communities and fractures families among our most marginalized communities.” Sen. Lee is a co-sponsor of the Smarter Sentencing Act, along with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Lee urged supporters of conservatism to help “make poverty temporary, not merely tolerable.”

“We usually refer to the free market and civil society as ‘institutions,’” he said. “But really, they are networks – networks of people and information and opportunity. …

“Networks of opportunity formed within the free market and civil society are not threats that poor families need more protection from. They are blessings that poor families need more access to.”

Derek Monson, policy director at Sutherland Institute, pointed out that family strength and culture are intertwined with economic issues – issues that are at the heart of Sutherland’s Center for Utah’s Economy. Read more