As we await the conclusion of the 2020 presidential race, many are experiencing anxiety or even despair at the thought of their candidate losing.

Early in our nation’s history, the power held by the president was minimal and arguably inconsequential at times, but in this political climate, citizens far and wide are looking to the next president to rid our nation of its woes.

Unfortunately, this approach has, and will continue to result in, disappointment. Our nation’s Founders never intended the president, the federal government or even state governments to have the seemingly limitless power that they’ve procured over the past 100 years.

The founding documents were designed to protect individual liberties and ensure each person had the freedom to live according to individual values and effectively solve their own problems. Now, instead of honoring diversity and the power of the individual, we have replaced these liberties with a “one-size-fits-all” approach to governance and look to the politicians in Washington, D.C., for solutions, while also blaming them when their solutions inevitably fail.

During this time of increasing division, it is important to remember that the United States began as a beacon for diversity. The concept of federalism was central to our founding and exemplifies the United States’ high regard for regional, local and individual diversity, which is widely varied but also capable of unity. Federalism is the bedrock upon which federal (or central) government and state/municipal governments achieve harmony and cultivate optimal conditions in which individuals can thrive. It limits the power of the central government and gives equal footing to state governments because each state is unique; policies that work in one state often don’t apply to other states. Additionally, the larger the scope of a program or policy, the more difficult it is to implement, and the more risky it is because its potential failure will impact a larger group of people.

Leaving problems to be solved as close to the source as possible is the most ideal structure. If you need evidence of this just look within the four walls of your house. The majority of problems are best solved by stakeholders in close proximity. By keeping solutions local, not only do we increase responsiveness, we’re able to tailor our solutions to the nuance of the specific problems we’re facing.

A wonderful example of good intentions gone awry is when, approximately 25 years ago, the U.S. Forest Service implemented a new policy (the Eastside Screens) for Oregon and Washington that prohibited the harvesting of trees greater than 21 inches in diameter. This was done to protect the wildlife habitat and water resources of old-growth forests.

What likely wasn’t taken into consideration, however, is that some trees — like the white fir we see blanketing our Wallowa County forests — are more susceptible to disease, fire, insects and drought, and are much more likely to die than other species like red fir or ponderosa pine. White fir also is quite prolific as it is more shade tolerant than other species.

Twenty-five years later, we now have expansive, dense, dead stands of white fir timber sitting idly by, waiting for fire to take its toll. In fact, efforts are now underway to revise the 21-inch rule.

Stephen Baker, regional media officer for the Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest region, said in a June 12 Bend Bulletin story that. “The Forest Service is considering science that has emerged over the past 25 years to see if there is a more contemporary way to achieve the wildlife and other restoration objectives.”

This is not “emerging science.” It was well understood at the time, but blanket policies rarely take exceptions into account.

The example of the Eastside Screens illustrates another truth — enacting change outside the sphere of local government is a time-consuming, arduous process. When things go wrong, it is difficult to course-correct due to the bureaucratic red tape. It’s much more effective to revise or amend failing policies when control is kept locally, as is obvious by the fact that some people have been working for decades to revise the language around the Eastside Screens without success and in spite of the overwhelming evidence that it would improve forest health.

The 10th Amendment of our own Constitution explicitly lays out the division of power, stating, “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.”

Somehow, we have shirked our responsibility on a local and state level and allowed power-hungry politicians, the media and bloated bureaucracies to convince us that our problems are best solved with the “one-size-fits-all” approach that the federal government has to offer. This is a gloomy situation that leads to further division as we blame a political party or unelected bureaucrats for failing policies that were doomed from the start, simply because of their broad-reaching nature.

We need to remember that a government powerful enough to give us everything is also powerful enough to take it all away, and when the opportunity presents itself we need to be willing to take back that power. We must never forget that those most basic powers of individual freedom are not granted to us by the state. Our rights predate even the concept of government, we are endowed with them by our Creator as is written in the Declaration of Independence.


Devin Patton is a third-generation Wallowa County native whose pastimes include the study of ag economics, history and free thought.

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