The States of Dis-Union: Will Arizona and West Virginia Join the President or Secede?

Jeff Biggers Jan 26, 2011

As President Obama calls on the nation to “come together as a people, Republicans, Democrats, Independents,” and “find common ground, even as we’re having some very vigorous debates,” the questions begs to be asked if the political leadership in Arizona and West Virginia will join him, or remain in their increasingly isolated bunkers of state’s rights.

The view from the mountain state to the Grand Canyon state is looking fairly dim. In fact, some observers wonder if Arizona and West Virginia are spiraling quickly down the slippery slope of a virtual secession from federal laws.

In less than a month since the tragic shooting of US Rep. Gabby Giffords left six people dead and 13 injured, Arizona has been on a fast-track to challenge federal authority at all costs.

Writing in Forbes, journalist Osha Davidson previewed a new bill that “can be summed up in three words: “Stay outta Arizona.” As Davidson notes: “HB 2077 would require any ‘federal regulatory agency’ to register with the sheriff whenever its representatives enter one of Arizona’s fifteen counties. That would effectively end surprise visits by mine safety inspectors, EPA air quality officials and anyone working for the IRS, said Crandell. The sheriff would also be allowed to charge feds a “reasonable” (but unspecified) fee to register.”

Only days before, the state legislature took up a bill that would prohibit “courts from considering international law or legal percepts of other nations or cultures when making judicial decisions.”

Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer became the first state leader to “play chicken with the Obama administration,” according to the Washington Post, by passing a bill that requests a federal waiver to comply with certain Medicaid requirements. In essence, Arizona plans to cut Medicaid benefits for 280,000 of the state’s poorest citizens. (This is after Arizona cut funds for deathly ill transplants.)

The California-transplanted Brewer is no stranger to challenging federal authority — especially President Obama. Last year, she not only championed the draconian anti-immigration legislation, but signed the “Firearm Freedom Act” that permits certain weapons and ammunition manufactured in Arizona to be sold without following any federal registration or regulations.

Now West Virginia wants to get in on the state’s rights show — and go one step further.

Casting aside the vision of West Virginia US Senator Robert Byrd, who served the state for half a century and warned its leaders and coal industry officials to “embrace the future,” and who declared before his passing last year that “the monolithic power of industry should never dominate our politics to the detriment of local communities,” the Big Coal-bankrolled politicians in West Virginia are introducing three bills that would exempt guns AND coal mined and sold in the state from federal regulation. The bill’s main sponsor, Delegate Gary Howell (R-Mineral), declared what the “EPA is doing is a soft tyranny.”

Howell is hardly alone in his defiance of the EPA’s recent move to veto a reckless and violation-ridden mountaintop removal proposal. Despite overwhelming evidence that mountaintop removal mining–the process of using millions of pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosives to blow up mountains and dump the toxic waste into valleys and waterways–has devastated the coalfields economies and taken jobs, destroyed the unions, and poisoned watersheds, Acting West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin recently joined a “call to arms” to defy the Clean Water Act and strip the EPA from any federal authority over strip-mining permits.

The Rachel Maddow show recently exposed US Sen. Joe Manchin, who is increasingly turning into the “Theodore Bilbo” of his generation, for his rifle-toting defiance of President Obama and his debut legislation to gut the EPA’s power.

Meanwhile, while the President details his plans for economic revival and clean energy jobs, residents and advocates across the Appalachian coalfields are wondering why their own states will be left out of the discussion for a just transition.

Facing a similar state’s right revolt in the fall of 1963, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy admonished the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“States’ rights, as our forefathers conceived it, was a protection of the right of the individual citizen. Those who preach most frequently about states’ rights today are not seeking the protection of the individual citizen, but his exploitation. . . . The time is long past – if indeed it ever existed – when we should permit the noble concept of States’ rights to be betrayed and corrupted into a slogan to hide the bald denial of American rights, of civil rights, and of human rights.”

The time is long past for radical Arizona and West Virginia politicians to return to rule of law, find some common ground and join the rest of the nation.

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

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