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

Open range cattle grazing at foothills of Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado, summer scenery

Dusty Trails: The Erosion of Grazing in the American West

Utah State Capitol Building  in Black and White

Testimony in favor of Senate Bill 196 (Health Education Amendments)

Statement as prepared by William C. Duncan, senior fellow at Sutherland Institute, who testified in favor of SB 196 – Health Education Amendments, on Feb. 21, 2017, before the Senate Education Committee of the Utah Legislature:

The core policy of Utah as it relates to sex education today recognizes that marriage is the only appropriate setting for sexual activity and that this subject is best understood when parents are highly involved in that education. If Senate Bill 196 were approved, that would still be the policy of the state.

So, what would change? The state would not be singling out an identifiable group in the statute. That would mean, practically, that the state would not be vulnerable to a lawsuit challenging that provision, which under current Supreme Court precedent, might invite federal court micromanagement of Utah’s curriculum.

Don't Drink and Drive written on the road

Utah should strengthen its DUI law

How a .05 BAC Standard Strengthens Personal Freedom

A mountain of evidence suggests that moving Utah’s DUI blood alcohol content (BAC) standard to .05 will save lives and improve public safety on Utah’s roads. This is common-sense policy in much of the civilized world, which already has a .05 BAC standard with no discernible harms to tourism, court/prison systems or the rights of responsible drinkers.

But the .05 BAC standard raises an interesting question regarding the impact on personal freedom from such a standard. Unfortunately, they arrive at the wrong answer to that question. Moving to a .05 BAC standard does not weaken personal freedom – it strengthens it.

A few questions illuminate this. How is personal freedom impacted when a parent must arrange their child’s funeral because of a drunken driver? What is the impact on personal freedom for someone who loses the friendship of a neighbor from alcohol-impaired driving? How is personal freedom affected for the individual who dies prematurely because another person irresponsibly chose to drink and drive?

Freedom is not just a philosophical theory, but a personal experience. Freedom does not exist disconnected from human experience with what freedom means on a personal and community level. Striking the proper balance in personal freedom means balancing considerations of how policy impacts personal freedom for everyone in society, not for a single group of people.

Critics of a .05 BAC standard express concern that this policy reduces the personal freedom of those who drink and drive, through license suspensions and DUI arrests. But this argument misplaces the blame for this loss of personal freedom on the law, instead of on the individual.

The choice to drive after drinking excessively is the choice to subject one’s personal freedom to the uncontrollable consequences of drunken driving. In this case, the limits on personal freedom come not from the law, but from the loss of control over driving skills caused by intoxication. Lowering the BAC standard to .05 is not establishing new limits on personal freedom, but simply recognizing the self-imposed limits on personal freedom that a drunken driver has accepted with an irresponsible decision.

By recognizing this reality with a .05 BAC standard, and reducing fatalities from drunken driving as a consequence, we strengthen personal freedom by extending the lives of would-be victims of alcohol-impaired driving. Survivors and their loved ones gain the freedom that life brings, rather than suffering in the prison of premature death.

The weight of these considerations tips the balance of personal freedom in favor of those whose lives will be extended and enriched from the protections of a .05 BAC standard. Personal freedom is strengthened through improved public safety brought about by a .05 BAC standard, not reduced, because those who drink and drive have subjected their personal freedom to intoxicated driving.

Quick Facts About HB 155

Outdoor Retailer should avoid ultimatums on lands policy

Today, some leaders from the outdoor retail industry are making demands and issuing ultimatums to Utah’s elected officials, threatening to pull the Outdoor Retailer trade shows from the state.

Their aggressive actions highlight how the discussion around public land management has been absolutely degraded. So, while questioning our state’s values and love for public lands, their ultimatums are actually restricting and undermining real collaboration and constructive dialogue on this critical issue. So, those who care about our public lands need to move beyond the bluster and bombast and get to principled compromise and viable land management solutions.

Clearly, tourism and outdoor recreation play a vital role in Utah’s economy today and will for generations to come. Utah’s unparalleled beauty and recreational opportunities draw visitors from around the world, driving small businesses, providing tax revenue, and making our state a great place to work, live and play.

To claim that the only appropriate use of our public lands is outdoor recreation is to ignore the needs of real Utahns – especially those who live in our rural communities. And despite the false claims often depicted on the internet and in the media, responsible land management is not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers.

The type of bullying rhetoric currently coming from some in the outdoor retail industry is creating the kind of fake fight and false choices we often see in Washington, D.C. That is not how we do it here in Utah.

We understand that stewardship of natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. We know public lands can and ought to be put to multiple – often complementary – uses, which expands the economic pie to everyone’s benefit. We must remember that ultimatums kill collaboration and compromise.

We call on Utah’s elected officials, the outdoor retail industry, and other key voices to engage in an inclusive, elevated dialogue that will lead to land management policy that will foster a healthy environment, abundant recreational opportunities, and a diverse thriving economy for all Utahns now and for many generations to come. That is the Utah way.

Illegal Young man Spraying black paint on a Graffiti wall. (room for text)

Testimony in support of HB 239 (Juvenile Justice Amendments)

Testimony given by Derek Monson on Feb. 10, 2017, in support of HB 239 (Juvenile Justice Amendments) before the House Judiciary Committee of the Utah Legislature:

Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. My name is Derek Monson and I represent Sutherland Institute.

Sutherland Institute supports HB 239 because one of its major thrusts is to tap into and strengthen families to find community-driven solutions to problems of juvenile justice.

One of the temptations in criminal and juvenile justice policy is to view families as a problem, and subsequently to take the easier path of ignoring or going around families. But we think the right policy approach is a road “less traveled,”[1] which views families as a solution. That approach has the potential to find answers that are practical, because they work from the ground up within communities, and answers that are sustainable, because they don’t require unending allocations of taxpayer dollars.

We see HB 239 as reflecting this approach, and as a result its impact will be to strengthen families that need help, spend taxpayer funds more cost-effectively, and help children whose future should point to a life of success and happiness despite mistakes, not toward juvenile detention because of their mistakes.

We encourage you to support HB 239. Thank you.

[1] Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” 1916.


A cute African boy leaning on his elbows and smiling at the camera.

Testimony in support of HB 168 (Kindergarten Supplemental Enrichment Program)

Testimony as prepared by Christine Cooke, who spoke in support of HB 168 (Kindergarten Supplemental Enrichment Program) on Feb. 9, 2017, before the House Education Committee of the Utah Legislature.  

Thank you, members of the board.

I’m Christine Cooke, education policy analyst at Sutherland Institute.

One of Sutherland Institute’s priorities is tackling intergenerational poverty. My colleague sits on the state’s Intergenerational Poverty Advisory Committee, so we’re aware that students caught in this situation have unique needs – especially when it comes to education.

After working with the bill sponsor last year and this year, we believe the current language of HB 168 is targeted to meet the needs of students caught in this cycle and that the language prioritizes these students.

We understand that there is inconclusive data on the results of additional hours for kindergarten, so we believe that early education programs should be targeted to those who see the most benefit according to research – students who are most at risk.

The bill also requires longitudinal data to be gathered about the program so we can assess whether this program is resulting in long-term benefits we hope for.

We ask you to support this bill.

Thank you.

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:



National division


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

Sutherland’s Education Vision

Reform requires vision. Leaders who want to transform education must know where they want to go and why they want to go there. They spread their vision by elevating public dialogue to the level of values, principles and ideals – the “attainment of the highest things.” They avoid the temptation to only oppose bad ideas without offering bold new ones, recognizing that without the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the Boston Tea Party would not have been even a footnote in history. To this end, Sutherland Institute offers its vision for education: how we view human learning, what we believe to be the purpose of education, and what education should look like once it is transformed.

Read our complete Education Vision!

Hyperbolic outrage won’t keep the lamp of freedom burning

President Donald Trump’s divisive campaign rhetoric on immigration, along with the administration’s horrible rollout of his executive order, sparked protests across the country. That spark has been fanned and fueled into a raging flame by opponents and opportunists who have misrepresented what the executive order actually does just to make political points and raise millions of dollars. This is not what keeping the lamp of freedom burning bright is supposed to look like.

Separating genuine concern and proper protests from manufactured outrage and hyperbolic hysteria is proving to be difficult in the digital age.

Many opponents rightly pointed to the Statue of Liberty as they made their case against the travel ban. While pointing to the lamp of freedom Lady Liberty raises in her right hand, they ignored what she holds in her left. Lady Liberty resolutely holds a tabula ansata in her left hand – a keystone-shaped tablet used to evoke the idea of order and the rule of law in upholding democracy.

This particular order is hardly the raging fire or constitutional crisis it is made out to be. President Trump paused – for 90 days – travel, immigration and refugee acceptance from nations with known jihadist organizations.

The order sets a cap on refugees coming into the country at 50,000 annually, which is the historic average of how many refugees have entered the U.S. from 2001-2015. It does not target our Muslim friends. It does not apply to legal permanent residents or green-card holders. It does, however, empower the secretaries of state and homeland security to make exceptions, which would certainly apply to translators, allies and operatives who have bravely served alongside U.S. forces.

President Trump is right to shine a light on national security. But he should also turn his gaze to the lamp of freedom in Lady Liberty’s right hand.

America must never allow concerns for national security to collide with American compassion in a way that undermines the bedrock of our ideals.

Working with Congress, the administration must establish a system to prevent bad actors from entering our country illegally while creating a compassionate gateway, for those fleeing tyranny or pursuing freedom, to enter America legally.

From our founding, and with but few periods of exception, America has opened its arms in order to provide a second chance at life, to millions of huddled masses who yearned to breathe free. And they breathed. And the nation has prospered.

Rather than pouring gasoline on the angry sparks and fear-driven flames currently dominating the executive order debate we should look to the compassionate lamp of freedom and the rule of law represented in Lady Liberty. The statue was originally, and appropriately, titled, “Liberty Enlightening the World.” That goodness is what has and what will continue to make America great.

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