Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Virginia's Governor and the Constitutional Authority of Congress

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.)
President Barack Obama is making a campaign swing through Virginia next week, an acknowledgment that, although Virginia has only voted once for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, it has the potential to do so again in 2012.  (In 1964, Virginia voted for Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater; in 2008, the Old Dominion chose Illinois Senator Barack Obama over Arizona Senator John McCain.  GOP candidates won Virginia in all the intervening elections.)  As the 2012 presidential campaign is well underway, even with the GOP nominee still unknown, the President's need to keep Virginia in his Electoral College "win" column is quite keen.

The White House has not released precise details but it looks like the President will make at least four stops, in Charlottesville, Danville, Fredericksburg, and Newport News.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has requested that Obama add a fifth stop to his tour of Virginia:  earthquake-damaged Louisa County, where the town of Mineral was the epicenter of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that was felt up and down the East Coast and as far west as Chicago and St. Louis on August 23.

In a letter released by McDonnell's office, the Governor makes his case to the President, noting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has denied his request for assistance to property owners to pay for damages to their homes and businesses:
I am inviting you to join me in visiting Louisa County during your tour of the Commonwealth next week. This additional stop in your previously scheduled tour will provide you the opportunity to meet the citizens who were at the epicenter of this significant seismic event, and witness the impact of the earthquake and more than 40 aftershocks on the homes and businesses in this area. It would benefit your administration to understand the devastation brought on by this historic earthquake, and to sec how the community’s recovery will be hindered as a result of FEMA’s denial of important emergency relief funds.
In his letter, at the top of page two, the Governor goes on to make a puzzling and unsubstantiated claim (italics added):
Disaster relief and public safety are core functions of the federal government. Volunteer groups are ill-equipped to repair earthquake damage. And, while state and local officials are doing everything they can, federal assistance is necessary in ensuring that affected Virginians are able to repair their homes to a safe condition and get back on their feet again.
That italicized phrase also appeared in a news release from the Governor's office dated October 7. It stuck in my craw a bit but I let it go as illustrative of the poetic license one associates with public relations efforts.

Never having seen any part of the U.S. Constitution that addresses either "disaster relief" or "public safety," I sent a query to the Governor's press secretary, asking, "Can the Governor's office provide a citation of the section (or sections) of the U.S. Constitution in which either 'disaster relief' or 'public safety' are found?"

As of 10:23 p.m., I have not received a reply.

While waiting, I took another look at the famous story ("Not Yours to Give") about Tennessee Congressman David Crockett, who told his colleagues once about his encounter with a constituent, Horatio Bunce, something of a backwoods sage.

Bunce had objected to Crockett's vote to appropriate funds for the relief of victims of a fire in Georgetown, D.C., and said to the Congressman:
The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.
Among those things not delegated to Congress is the authority to engage in charity using taxpayers' money, no matter how noble the cause. That authority is missing from Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, which specifies the few and defined powers of the national legislature.

"Disaster relief" is not among them, and "public safety" (aside from the raising of armies and navies to protect against foreign enemies) is reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment.

Certainly Governor McDonnell, as an educated man and a lawyer, knows this.

By the way, country singer Alan Jackson is giving a free concert in Mineral to give a moral and material boost those directly harmed by the August earthquake.  His efforts to help the town are, in fact, his to give.

The question is, who would draw a bigger crowd in Louisa County:  Barack Obama or Alan Jackson?
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