Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - “Washington Can Learn From State Legislators”

Posted on April 25, 2008

I think one of the greatest compliments I’ve been paid in my five years as a United States senator was when someone said, “The problem with Lamar is that he still hasn’t gotten over being governor.” My response was that when I do, you can send me home. We need more people here in Washington who haven’t gotten over being part of state governments. Nothing would make me madder when I was Governor than when a Washington politician would come up with a good-sounding idea, make it into a law and then send the bill to me and the state legislature. And then that same Washington politician would be home within two weeks making a big speech about local control. There’s a lot of talk from both parties in Washington about stopping unfunded federal mandates, but both parties keep passing them. Politicians in the nation’s capital need to remember where they come from, and that’s why so many in Washington can learn from listening to our state legislators. My suggestion is that all federal legislators should stay in regular contact with their counterparts in the state and meet with them when they’re home. Those of us sent to Washington by the voters need to pay attention to what people tell us from back home. One example is the REAL ID Act, which imposed minimum federal standards on state-issued driver’s licenses. While we do need to establish a secure ID card for all Americans, the REAL ID program is just another unfunded federal mandate. Congress stuck the REAL ID legislation into a troop funding bill that no one could vote against. That created a $4 billion mandate on the states, and currently Congress has only appropriated $90 million for it, leaving the states to fund this with their own money. So I plan to offer an amendment later this year to say that the federal government can’t enforce REAL ID mandates on the states until it pays for them. I’m glad for the opportunity to serve the people of Tennessee as a member of the U.S. Senate. I feel like I have a chance to do something constructive every day. But our country will work better if the people who come to Washington to legislate remember that most of the wisdom does not reside in the Washington. Federalism is a good thing. If Washington thinks it’s important enough to impose a mandate on a state or local government, it needs to pay the bill first. So, I will continue representing our state as a Tennessean and not a Washington bureaucrat. ###