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Congressman actually wants less power

May 19, 2010
In The News

By Dan Weist
Standard-Examiner Davis Bureau
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With a shock of white hair and a curmudgeonly grin, Utah Congressman Rob Bishop unapologetically stands up from time to time to passionately stump for states and their power to trump the federal government.

In fact, the mantra "power to the people" would be easy to assign to Bishop as the co-founder of a congressional caucus of Western states currently decrying the powerful position of the federal government.

But Bishop, first elected in 2002 as the federal representative from the 1st Congressional District of Utah, says there is a role for the national government, at least in his view of the classical federalism of the founding fathers.

"Federalism is about balance ... so that no one gets control," he said of the fight between state and federal governance. "The idea was to have the elements of power to frustrate one another."

The former Utah Republican Party chairman has stepped up in the last year to lead several group efforts aimed at restoring the balance and renewing what he sees as a more constitutionally based government.

In May, Bishop helped launch the 10th Amendment Task Force, a project of the Republican Study Committee.

The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Bishop said the task force, which includes 10 congressional co-founders, will develop and promote proposals that aim to disburse power, decision-making and money from Washington back to states, local governments and individuals.

"Too often, Congress gives blanket powers to bureaucracies," he said.

The former Utah House speaker said, many times, he watched taxpayer dollars return from the federal government to the state with strings attached that hampered a common-sense use of the money.

Bishop believes his 16 years in the state Legislature set him on the road to a "new" federalism.

Listening to his former teacher wax about the balance of power is not new to Tom Kotter, currently the lone candidate for county auditor in Box Elder County.

Kotter was a student of Bishop's at Box Elder High School during the lawmaker's life before the Hill. Bishop was a teacher for 28 years.

"He made a document that was 200 years old really seem to apply now. (He taught) that what the founding fathers did back then still had an effect on our lives today," said Kotter, a Perry resident who works in Ogden as a private auditor.

Earlier this month, Kotter stood to ceremonially nominate Bishop as the party choice for the 1st District seat at the GOP state convention.

Bishop's re-election effort included facing fellow Republican Mike Ridgway in a delegate vote for the nomination.

"It's unbelievable what Rob Bishop has done with your money," Ridgway disparagingly told delegates in his convention speech.

Ridgway, of Tooele, talked about government spending and congressional earmarks in his criticism of Bishop's time in Congress.

But delegates gave 93 percent of their votes to Bishop for the nomination.

The Brigham City lawmaker, who was born in Kaysville and graduated from Davis High School, also faces Democrat Morgan Bowen, the Constitution Party's Kirk Pearson and Libertarian Jared Paul Stratton on the November ballot.

At the state convention, Bishop's speech was laced with conservative rhetoric and another flash of passion on constitutional issues that reminded Don Guymon about the congressman's speech-making prowess.

"I think Rob is one of (the) best orators we have in the party," said Guymon, who served with Bishop on the State Central Committee.

Guymon, of West Bountiful, believes Bishop will listen to opposition voices in debates about the role of the federal government.

Bishop recently introduced legislation that would allow Utah to assume full responsibility for federally connected programs in the areas of education, transportation and Medicaid. He called it the Utah Laboratory of Democracy Act.

In announcing the bill, Bishop released a statement that quoted former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said, "It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments."

Bishop said the bill, in part, represents one of his overall goals as a congressman, which is to one day retire from or have left Washington, D.C., with less power than when he first came into office.