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Give Them Liberty

The Patrick Henry Caucus stands ready to take on the big, bad federal government.


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If American democracy is based on vigorous checks and balances, then the state and federal government may just be entering the classic grudge match of the century. For members of the Patrick Henry Caucus (PHC), the states-rights group formed by several Utah legislators that pays homage to the anti-federalist founding father, if ever there was a chance to rally against the Obama federalist-socialist takeover, now is that time. Of course, before these fighters even weigh in, the PHCers will need to get organized.

“As of now, it’s like herding cats,” says Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, who started the caucus and is one of several Utah legislators to found the group. While informally organized without a board or bylaws, from a grass-roots perspective, the PHC groups bring together citizens along with 30 state legislators signing on from California to Indiana, with its unique legislator-driven organization and anti-fed message, the PHC could be a contender on the national political scene.

Founders say they have even considered using the caucus to dust off Article V of the Constitution, which describes how the Constitution may be altered, and call a constitutional convention (“con-con” as PHC’ers call it) to rewrite the Constitution to rein in the feds.

“OK, I am going to open it up here,” Wimmer writes from his Facebook page on July 19, “I have had many people suggest that The Patrick Henry Caucus be the vehicle that helps to organize a National Constitutional Convention; hoping that we can stop the insanity in Washington.” While the 77 comments that resulted were largely against the idea, fearful that the convention would be hijacked by delegates who could give the federal government more power, Wimmer, for one, isn’t ruling out the option.

“There are a lot of people who want us to call a con-con right now,” Wimmer writes the City Weekly via e-mail. “They see what they believe is the slow destruction of the Constitution anyway, so they are willing to take the risk.”

“I would never propose that if, politically, it looked like it would actually consolidate the fed’s power,” says Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, another PHC founder. “But that’s a step down the road.” First things first: Sumsion and Wimmer will take the fight through the local legislative process, passing laws on the state level to challenge federal regulations. Since much of the inspiration for the PHC group came from the Montana Legislature that passed a law that said that if guns were manufactured, sold and remained—along with the ammunition—within the state’s boundaries, then the guns should not be subject to federal interstate commerce regulations.

Now, the PHC is applying this principle to other legislation in Utah proposed for the next session such as invalidating affirmative action in the state, land and energy issues and government encroaching into the workplace—not to mention recently announced plans to seek an amendment to the state constitution allowing Utah a way out of the coming federal health-care reform.

“Arizona passed a bill basically exempting themselves from what may become the federal social health program,” Sumsion says. “That’s the kind of legislation we would like to work with.”

Sumsion estimates challenging federal regulations in court might cost $1 million to $2 million for Utah, a necessary sacrifice in PHC’s view, but one Sumsion says may be lessened by pooling resources with other PHC-friendly states.

The group’s potential and specific agenda make the group one to watch, political analysts say. “The caucus has shown great promise by focusing on the 10th Amendment [which says powers not granted to the feds or prohibited to the states are reserved to the state] and getting its message out through rallies, [talk-show host] Glenn Beck, and other conservative media outlets,” says Kirk Jowers, Director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, adding that their challenge will be in keeping the momentum going.

Momentum is something Wimmer is optimistic about. Recent polls both by The New York Times/CBS News and The Wall Street Journal/NBC News both found 49 percent of respondents believed the country was on the wrong track. In view of Obama’s progressive federalism, Wimmer sees voters focusing on states’ rights in the next election.

“We already have some legislators who have been asked if they were supportive [of the PHC], because the voter will not vote for someone unless they support the caucus.” Wimmer says.

With support growing and with the caucus now setting up a website allowing state’s legislators to share ideas and collaborate, Wimmer thinks the PHC has nowhere to go but up.

“We struck a nerve with people, and I believe we will see candidate platforms and even party platforms focus more on states rights.” Wimmer says. “Whether or not it is because of the PHC is not important.”