The most controversial bill in recent Alaska history - and beyond - might be this session's House Bill 69, sponsored by Speaker Mike Chenault. This House legislation was advertised as a declaration of state sovereignty as it related to owning firearms in Alaska. But that was more of a side note to the actual threat the language of the bill presents.
HB69 includes provocative language stipulating that state authorities could, should the bill pass, arrest federal agents who attempted to enforce federal law regarding gun regulations. For instance, if Washington, D.C. passed a law tomorrow stating that high capacity ammo clips are illegal, Chenault's bill would deem that law invalid. It would empower state troopers to arrest any FBI agent seeking to enforce the law. It would tell citizens that they had more power than the feds.
Chenault's legislation was a proposed solution to non-existent gun reform being discussed in the nation's capital. In other words, it nullified federal law.
The crux of the bill is as simple as it is falsely advertised by its proponents: states can pick and choose which federal laws to abide by, and can assert authority over federal agents enforcing federal law.
We've been through this. It caused the creation of our Constitution in light of the obvious inefficiency of the Articles of Confederation.
Daniel Day-Lewis just won an Oscar for the last time our country faced the issue.
The people who Alaskans elected, who have been chosen to create policy that ensures a stable, viable, prosperous 49th estate, these people have made three fundamentally shortsighted and flawed determinations in advancing Chenault's nullification law.
The first mistake is the misguided presumption that this bill is, in any way, constitutional. The second mistake is the legislators' choice to propagate the false premise that HB69 is about the Second Amendment; that this proposal in any way protects our right to bear arms in a way that the actual Second Amendment fails to. The third mistake hinges on this bizarre notion that arresting federal agents is the proper way to publicly disagree with poor decisions made at the federal level.
There's this thing known as the Supremacy Clause. United States Constitution, Article 6, Section 2:
"The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in ever State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."
Our founders loved federalism and arbitrary capitalization. And I salute them. They were clear: federal law trumps state law. The courts decide when Congress has acted in a way that violates the Constitution.
Alaska State Constitution, Article 12, Section 4 details "Disqualifications for Disloyalty" for elected officials:
"No person who advocates, or who aids or belongs to any party or organization or association which advocates, the overthrow by force or violence of the government of the United States or of the State shall be qualified to hold any public office of trust or profit under this constitution."
A general attribute of a failed state is an erosion of the authority to make collective decisions; to uphold the law. When one state in a United States claims that they can assert dominance over the whole for the laws it follows, and bands together with other states who feel the same - to a degree where they claim they can arrest federal agents, what do you call that?
North Pole Republican Tammie Wilson objected to criticism of HB69 by way of defending it's beyond-a-reasonable-doubt-unconstitutionality: "So one attorney has said it might be [unconstitutional]. We don't know that for sure that this is unconstitutional."
Shouldn't the legislature be confident that they are pursuing legislation "in pursuance thereof" the Constitution, and not a dark horse gamble that might possibly slip-by judicial review by the skin of its teeth? (Which it wouldn't.)
Enough is Enough.
It's tough to be an elected politician. You want to be seen as a champion of the peoples' will. And you have to prove your case to those people if you wish to retain your seat. So, you figure out what your district cares about and try to become that lightning rod of unwavering support for whatever that issue is. Even if it's a nonexistent issue, or if you're making a stink about something you don't need to be. You find something that tends to keep people from showing up to protest the very idea of you. That's the theater that our politics have become.
In Alaska, gun rights are hugely important. We hunt. We often live in secluded areas - Alaska tops the national census data at 1.2 persons per square mile. Protection in Alaska is something very different than an urban apartment complex in Oakland. Gun rights are different here, and laws need to reflect that. National laws need, also, to respect that.
But there's a disconnect between the reality of respecting gun ownership and the defense of a bill in the state legislature that takes hostile action towards the nation we're the forty ninth star of.
This was a fact pointed out by freshman representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage):
Mr. Speaker, we decided in 1955 to submit a state constitution. We joined the team. Our star's on the flag. I see it there. We didn't have to do that. We demanded it. We implored our forty-eight... brothers and sisters, let us join this great team. And I care greatly about my state. But I'm very proud to be an American. Very proud. And if the courts say that an administration law is constitutional, it is. I think this is secessionist talk. That's what I think it is.
That is tough to argue, because what Mike Chenault is talking about is, at its unrelenting core, secessionist talk.
But Representative Peggy Wilson (R-Wrangell) was, nonetheless, there to make a haunting declaration: "[W]e are joining a team. We're joining a team with eleven other states that are saying enough is enough."
Sorry, I'm just trying to get past the "this isn't condoning a new Civil War" sentiment in light of the whole "we're joining a team of eleven states seeking to preempt the federal government's authority" argument.
I feel like this is charted territory.
The reality is that there is a group of politicians that, at best, want to secure re-election by honing in on a topic that gets their base aflutter - and satisfies that aflutteredness dishonestly, by posing as paper heroes saving a constitutional protection in no need of rescue.
Some actors reach this conclusion, as it would appear, innocently. Representative Benjamin Nageak, for instance, is a Democrat in the Bush Caucus who was admittedly very conflicted. His support of the bill was not a tacit endorsement of arresting federal agents in an offensive movement against the federal government, but as a reaction based in fear of losing guns used to hunt for subsistence. He drank the HB69 proponents' Kool-Aid.
I don't think he understands the bill he just voted on.
Other actors are using this to promulgate a wildly incorrect paranoia, one that believes MoveOn.org special ops will be knocking on their door and confiscating their firearms tomorrow if not for the actions of the Alaska State Legislature - so long as they pass this entirely unrelated bill that is an act of aggression against the United States.
For instance, Palmer Republican Representative Shelley Hughes:
I've heard from many, many constituents and Alaskans from across the state that this is something that they would indeed like addressed. And when I listened to all the details, I'm sitting here thinking about something that's more of a principle.
She is acting as though they are reaffirming a Constitutional right which they are not reaffirming. The Second Amendment is not a question, it's a Constitutional right. This is not a principle, it's a bill. A really bad bill.
I doubt that her constituents believe that Alaska has a federal agent problem that needs to be addressed by arresting American citizens.
We're hunting bogeymen.
Arresting Federal Agents.
The overarching anti-American sentiment housed in HB69 is the rebuke of the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause. Speaker Mike Chenault, and 21 of his House colleagues, have decided this is a fine idea. The punishment its consequences could potentially dole out on the constituents they were elected to serve is collateral damage that had yet gone unmentioned.
Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) led the floor deliberations with a chilling speech that was promptly ignored.
[HB69] says it's a crime for an FBI agent to arrest somebody for violating a federal criminal law. Well, in order for that to be a crime, that means that somebody has to arrest them. That means a trooper has to arrest them. A police officer has to arrest them. And when a police officer or a trooper arrest an FBI agent, they have done what federal law calls impeding a federal officer from doing their job. So they'll be subject to a criminal penalty of somewhere between one year if no scuffle happens to twenty years if a major scuffle happens.
There are better ways to express your dissatisfaction with what the federal government does. By resolution, perhaps. By letter. By electing congressional representatives who will stand up for the things that we believe in. But it is not right to make our constituents think that illegal conduct is okay; to make our constituents think they can do things that are going to land them in the federal clink, only to have them, when they're in federal jail, write us and say "I thought you said we could do this." I'm not willing to do that. I'm not willing to deprive my constituents of their liberty, I'm not willing to deprive my constituents of their freedom, I'm not willing to deprive my constituents of their time with their family, and their children at home.
Freshman GOP Representative Gabrielle LeDoux decided to rebut Gara's argument with a complete misunderstanding of how states can disagree with federal laws without openly rebelling against the Union.
[W]e all do know that the federal constitution trumps the state constitution and trumps state law. But we also know that it is very, very difficult for the federal authorities to enforce federal law when they are getting no cooperation from the state authorities. So, just as the federal government has said, in response to the various marijuana initiatives across the country which are legalizing marijuana in certain places, just as they're saying "no, we're not going to go into those states and arrest people for marijuana," I contend that with the passage of this law, the federal government is just as likely to blink as not to blink.
I contend that she hasn't spent much time looking into a damn thing she's talking about.
Colorado and Washington passed citizens initiatives this past year that legalized marijuana usage. This is, of course, in direct violation of the federal law classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Act.
But here's where the comparison dies a tragic, uninformed death - visible to anyone who plays the narrative to its conclusion, one sentence later.
Washington state, to serve as an example, publicly voted to legalize marijuana use. (Kudos!) But they asserted no such dominance over the federal government. They passed a state law hoping that the federal government would recognize the antiquated and unsuccessful stance we've taken through our war on drugs and prohibition policies.
Colorado Governor Hickenlooper is currently lobbying the feds to work with his state and not against it.
In other words, they're out on a limb, hoping that the valid and populist argument they've presented is enough to sway national public opinion that ultimately reverses the stance taken by the federal government.
That's not the same as codifying the mandate that state authorities can arrest federal agents enforcing federal law. One of these things is not like the other.
Not by a long shot, Representative LeDoux.
Jumping the Shark.
There's plenty of sympathy out there for legislators who have really struggled with the issue of gun rights, post-Sandy Hook. Some have arrived at logical conclusions, others have decided that logic is for communists. How about the unjustifiable?
I give you Representative Doug Isaacson:
This well regulated militia is not a hunting club. It is not a recreational force. As a matter of fact, it is to keep and bear arms; a right to have free, non-tyrannical government. Therefor, if the government can afford an F-22, and I as a private citizen can afford to own an F-22, this article gives me the right to own exactly the same type of armament that the federal government has. That may sound like it's way on the edge, but remember when we were talking revolutionary terms, our forefathers talked revolutionary terms, they were looking at keeping the very same type of armament that the country of England had.
Following the model, I'd like you to look under your chair. You get a nuke! You get a nuke! Everyone gets a nuke! It's a Second Amendment Right! We can totally serve out our patriotic duty to start a war with the country we pledge allegiance to and we'll totally win - against the U.S. Army.
What are we going to do with all of our treasured yellow ribbons?
This bill, complete with the justifications listed in this article, passed the House by a vote of 31 to 5. If the Republican-controlled Senate chooses to bring it to the floor, I don't see the votes to stop it from becoming law. The safeguard we've benefitted from, with a bipartisan coalition in the Senate, has ceased to be.
Anchorage Republican Charisse Millett, who bore the task of introducing and concluding discussion of the bill, summarized by saying: "I hope to God that the federal government gets the point that states want to have a voice."
Rep. Wilson lamented the same sentiment; that HB69 was necessary "[B]ecause there's not really an area where we can really - maybe I should say a forum - where we can go and say 'that's not fair'".
Perhaps she should Google "Congress" - the democratic forum where the 50 states congregate and lobby for public policy that pays homage to the needs of all states in the Union.
Maybe our legislators should have to stop pretending that they're the fail-safe between our democratic republic and some authoritarian regime that confiscates our guns. No one is coming for your firearms. Really. No one. And we shouldn't incite Civil War-invective just for shits and giggles because we're worried about a potential background check.
These are the worst of politicians. They're reading polls and figuring out how to get you to feed your debit card to their campaign. Or they haven't taken the time to scrutinize the seditious blather they have just lent their votes to, as HB69 progresses towards becoming law.
It's not a one-party issue. I've heard of Reagan Democrats and Kennedy Republicans, but Alaska gave birth this week to Calhoun Democrats by way of Representatives Chris Tuck, Geran Tarr, Bryce Edgmon, Neal Foster, Bob Herron, and Benjamin Nageak. Oh, And Lindsey Holmes should probably bear a bit of culpability in there as well, if you're a West Anchorage Democrat who voted for someone who you thought might uphold the views she'd campaigned on.
The Republicans who followed their Speaker are no better. Of our 40 elected members of the state house, 31 are dually national embarrassments and insurrectionists. It's bipartisan.
Three quarters of our State House showed up and said that the United States of America is a bad idea, unless the 50 states agree to their terms. That doesn't sound patriotic to me. That sounds like a hostage situation. How does it sound to you?
Cross-posted from Alaska Commons