Stateline Story

Easley, Kempthorne Reject Anti-State Rhetoric

  • June 18, 2003
  • By Jason White

One's a Southern Democrat, the other a Western Republican, but North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley and Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne are in full agreement in rejecting some harsh conservative rhetoric accusing states of poor fiscal management and criticizing their pleas for federal money.

"I resent that and I reject that," Kempthorne said in a recent speech at Harvard University. He was referring to a National Review article called "Governors Go Home," by Stephen Moore and Grover Norquist who argued that the nation's governors had no place lobbying for federal funds in Washington, D.C.

"It's easy to be cynical," Easley told Stateline.org, when asked about anti-tax activist Norquist's suggestion in a New York Times article that he'd like to see a state go bankrupt.

Moore leads the Club for Growth, a political organization that bundles campaign contributions and directs them to fiscally conservative candidates. Norquist is president of American for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group that lobbies federal and state lawmakers for lower taxes.

Moore and Norquist have charged that the state fiscal crisis has been caused mostly by state overspending, not a sour economy. They have called for state lawmakers to pare down their responsibilities and programs, not raise taxes or fight for federal funds.

With state fiscal problems continuing in the foreseeable future, the battle to define a possible federal role in alleviating them looms large.

"I hope a state goes bankrupt," Norquist said in a recent article in The New York Times. "I hope a state has real troubles getting its act together, so that the other 49 states can say, 'Let's not do that.' We need a state to be a bad example, so that the others will start to make the serious decisions they need to get out of this mess."

North Carolina's Easley said such talk is "foolhardy."

"I think it's shortsighted and foolhardy to say it would be a good thing if a state went bankrupt," Easley said to a gathering of reporters last month in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Easley said that many states had let spending get out of control in the years leading up to their current budget mess, but he said he thinks the total collapse of a state is hardly the solution.

"If a state goes bankrupt, so will its public education system and its economy will follow," he said.

When the governors gathered in Washington, D.C., in February for their annual winter meeting, Moore and Norquist penned "Governors Go Home" for the National Review, a conservative journal of opinion. In it, the authors rebuked the nation's governors for thinking that the federal government could do anything to ease their fiscal troubles beyond kick-starting the economy with more tax cuts.

"About half the nation's governors are descending on Washington to do what politicians do best: beg for dollars. . . .Hopefully they'll return to their state capitals empty handed despite their full-court press to raid the federal treasury, which, if they haven't noticed, is also running on empty these days," the author's wrote.

Idaho's Kempthorne, a former U.S. Senator, said he finds such statements "incredible."

"'Governors Go Home' from your nation's capital? Did you ever stop to think what we call our nation? The United States of America," Kempthorne said in his Harvard speech.

"There are not federal citizens and state citizens. . .our citizens are the same. We serve the same taxpayers. And I would remind all of us that the sovereign states joined together to create the federal government. . .not the other way around," he said.

Kempthorne said he thinks it's entirely appropriate for the governors to meet in the nation's capital to discuss their shared interests, even if that means pushing for more federal funds.

High on the governors' agenda this year is reforming Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides healthcare to low-income and disabled individuals, and pressuring the federal government to fully-fund its share of educating children with disabilities.

"I think too often in Washington, D.C., there is an attitude that it is the Federal Government of America. . .instead of the United States of America. And we should remind our partners inside the Beltway about that fact and ask them to read the 10th Amendment occasionally," said Kempthorne.

The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads as follows: "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."

Moore and Norquist did not return phone calls seeking comment.