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What Republicans really mean by ‘states’ rights’ and ‘individual liberty’

According to Republican Party orthodoxy, the federal government is a greedy, malevolent giant that must be contained before it swallows up states’ autonomy and imposes the liberalism of intellectual elites on “real” Americans — who happen to be white, straight, evangelical Christians.

But the states’ rights cheerleaders and big-government foes have a serious hypocrisy problem: They consider federal intervention perfectly appropriate when it comes to forcing their own views on other people.

Take pot, for instance.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions believes states should not be allowed to legalize medical and recreational marijuana use as long as federal law bans it.

One of Sessions’ arguments is that having a checkerboard of different marijuana policies in the nation creates jurisdictional chaos and unwanted pot spillover from states where marijuana is legal into adjacent states where it isn’t.

Sessions also argues that marijuana use increases crime, even though the opposite is true. Taking marijuana sales out of the hands of organized crime and drug gangs and instead making it a controlled substance can decrease the crime that comes with illegal activity and save a fortune in law enforcement and incarceration costs.

Not to mention that the criminalization of pot is largely to blame for the high rate of incarceration among young African-American males in cities such as Milwaukee.

So how will Sessions handle the marijuana issue? States’ rights?

States such as Colorado, where legal pot added nearly $2.4 billion and over 18,000 full-time jobs to the state’s economy in 2015, have a lot riding on the elderly ex-senator from Alabama.

When it comes to same-sex marriage and transgender bathroom rights, however, Sessions and the rest of his ilk embrace the state-based checkerboard: They believe that states should be able to create their own laws. Damn the evidence of the many legal problems that leaving it to the states caused for same-sex couples as well as local authorities before the Supreme Court struck down state gay marriage bans.

Liberty, except when (fill in the blank)

In Wisconsin, we’ve seen our Republican leaders wave the flag of “liberty” while centralizing control of municipal and county governments. They’re all for individual liberty — except for a woman’s individual liberty to control what goes on inside her body, the liberty of Wisconsinites suffering from Parkinson’s disease to use marijuana to alleviate their symptoms, the liberty of consumers to order contact lenses from overseas, or the liberty of landowners to prevent oil companies from burying pipelines on their properties.

Municipal sovereignty has fared as badly under Republican control as individual liberty has. For example, Wisconsin municipalities can’t set their own water quality standards or enact bans on firearms that are stricter than state laws. They can’t change the minimum wage within their jurisdiction.

Wisconsin is tied with the other Republican states of Tennessee, Michigan, Louisiana and Florida for having the second largest number of state intrusions on municipal ordinance or authority. Those five areas concern: minimum wage, paid leave, ride sharing, municipal broadband, and tax and expenditure limits. North Carolina is the only state that undermines local authority in more areas than Wisconsin.

As a comparison, 21 states preempt local authority in two or fewer areas.

States’ rights and individual liberty are clearly not real Republican principles. Rather, they’re fig leaves, attempting to hide the imposition of their religious views and their lust for one-party rule. So when you hear that a Republican law is going to protect your state’s rights or your individual liberty, be afraid — be very afraid.


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