Last week Republicans won outright control of Virginia's General Assembly. Retaining their Senate majority, winning the House of Delegates is a Republican first in the history of the Commonwealth. Republican Governor James S. Gilmore III celebrated the election news saying, "Free at last. Free at last. Free at long last. Democracy has finally come to the Commonwealth."
I'm hoping that Governor Gilmore simply mis-spoke when he said democracy and really meant liberty has finally come to the Commonwealth. Democracy and liberty are not the same. Democracy is little more than mob rule while liberty refers to the sovereignty of the individual. The pursuit of liberty was the goal of Virginia's most distinguished citizens such as: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason and others who descended upon Philadelphia in 1787 to write a constitution that set the framework for our nation to become the world's freest and richest.
Republicans love to blame Democrats for high taxes, regulation and runaway government saying, "Only if we controlled the legislative and executive branches of government, things would be different." Republicans in the Commonwealth of Virginia now control the legislative and executive branches of government; what it will mean? For example, will it mean that Richmond will stop confiscating the earnings of one Virginian and giving them to another Virginian to whom they do not belong? Will it mean that Richmond will stop playing favorites with its different citizens through occupational and business licensing laws? Will it mean that those who benefit from a Commonwealth-produced service also pay for it? For the Republicans to provide the kind of moral leadership to answer those questions in ways Virginia's most distinguished statesmen would have answered them will be quite a challenge.
There is another issue far more challenging. I'd raise it in the form of a question to the Governor and General Assembly: "Do you believe the federal government has exceeded its constitutional
authority in its relationship with the Commonwealth? It's probably not going to take rocket science for them to agree that Congress has trashed the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. Then I'd remind them of what their predecessors said in 1788 when they ratified the U.S. Constitution: "We the delegates of the people of Virginia, . . . do in the name and on the behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known, that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power not granted thereby remains with them, and at their will. That therefore no right, of any denomination, can be canceled, abridged, restrained or modified by the Congress, by the Senate, or House of Representatives, acting in any capacity, by the President, or any department or officer of the United States, except in those instances where power is given by the Constitution for those purposes."
That's a crystal clear message; the Virginia delegates didn't mince words. They said the authority granted to the federal government was derived from the people. When the federal government abused and perverted that authority, the people of Virginia had the right to take it back. There's no question that the federal government has exceeded its constitutional authority. The question is whether today's leaders of the Virginia Commonwealth have the morality, guts and statesmanship of their predecessors to do anything about it.
Virginia's going to provide us with a laboratory experiment to test whether Republican control makes any difference in terms of liberty and limited government. I wonder how it's going to turn out.
Walter E. Williams
November 5, 1999
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