Also suggests two-thirds vote in Legislature on property-tax hikes
Echoing a theme from his campaign for Putnam County executive, Kevin Byrne on March 9 urged that Putnam become a “constitutional county.”
Byrne, a Republican who took office in January, promoted the concept during his inaugural State of the County address. The movement, popularized by the leader of a group called Defend Rural America, argues that any local or state laws “that are repugnant to the Constitution” should be considered “null and void.”
A handful of counties have adopted resolutions, including York in Virginia, Brown in Texas, Lyon in Nevada and Cattaraugus in western New York. A few also have rejected the idea, including Mesa in Colorado, Bremer in Iowa and Yates in New York.
At a public hearing in Yates County last year, nearly all attendees who commented opposed the move, according to a local news report. “If you want to be a separatist, just say it,” said one resident. In September, the Yates Legislature dropped the idea.
In outlining his ideas in Carmel, Byrne claimed that Putnam’s Constitutional County effort (initiated via a declaration by the Legislature) “will not be some fringe label or attempt to undermine state or federal laws.” He added that “we cannot simply wash away and ignore federal or state laws we dislike.”
However, he said, by becoming a Constitutional County, “we will make a meaningful statement to stand up publicly as one county supporting our existing United States Constitution.”
A day after his speech, Byrne sent the county Legislature a draft resolution that states that, “while Putnam County cannot unilaterally nullify federal or state laws it opposes, it will and does oppose,” within the limits of the U.S. Constitution and state civil rights law, “any efforts to unconstitutionally restrict such rights, in order to assure that its citizens will be able to keep and bear arms and use the same in defense of life, liberty and property, whether in a well-regulated militia, or individually.”
Executive Decries “Madness” of Climate Law
In his State of the County address on March 8, Dutchess County Executive William X.F. O’Neil suggested residents to ask God to intervene to spare the state from the “madness” of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
O’Neil, a Republican, is filling the last year of term of Marc Molinaro, who was elected in November to a seat in Congress. O’Neil, who was the deputy county executive, has said he will not run for the position.
He called Dutchess “an island in an unsettled sea,” accusing state leaders of being “more concerned with ideology than public service,” citing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
The climate-change legislation requires New York state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 85 percent or more by 2050, from their 1990 levels. O’Neil said those goals are unrealistic and will drive away business.
Moreover, along with endorsing “freedom of expression, speech, association, religion, press and petition,” it says county protection would “also extend to all other rights neither enumerated in the Constitution nor its amendments, but which exist alongside the same as inalienable, basic, fundamental rights that are so deep-rooted in our society that they are deserving of protection from governmental infringement,” such as “equality, liberty and the pursuit of livelihood and happiness.”
The draft also stipulates that “public funds, resources, employees, buildings or offices not be used to restrict rights or to aid or assist in the enforcement of any restriction of the rights granted under the Constitution,” and says courts can adjudicate any disputes.
Finally, the draft proclaims, the Putnam Legislature “recognizes that government must be limited and that the people must be free from unnecessary and arbitrary governmental overreach and intrusions.”
In his address, Byrne advocated requiring at least six of the nine legislators to approve property-tax hikes and that all public meetings on property-tax rises or the budget be streamed or aired live in both audio and visual formats, and that residents receive a chance to speak.
Indian Point discharge
Byrne joined neighboring counties to oppose the discharge of radioactive wastewater from the former Indian Point nuclear power plant into the Hudson River.
His comments on Indian Point followed votes by Westchester and Rockland lawmakers earlier this month to object to the plan by Holtec, which is decommissioning the plant. Byrne did not specifically ask the Legislature to pass its own resolution, although he said he discussed the issue with Legislator Greg Ellner of Carmel, employed in the water purification profession, and other legislators.
“Make no mistake, our county received tremendous economic and environmental net benefits when Indian Point was operational,” Byrne said. But now, “after the state essentially forced its closure, our federal representatives must step in and thwart a new environmental threat. And we are a Hudson River county.” He requested “that our federal partners assist in pursuing a better alternative.”
Should the resolution requested by County Executive Kevin Byrne be adopted, Putnam would apparently be stating its in-tent to violate any law some of its citizens do not care for.
The remedy for complaints an individual may have is to run for public office, vote at every opportunity and continue to monitor the official and unofficial activities of elected officials. We the people have voted for our representatives and officials to support the Constitution. We have not authorized any of them to decide that we, the citizenry, have a right to disregard enforcement of any law we do not care for.
The idea that a county Legislature can determine whether federal, state or municipal laws are “null and void” is itself “repugnant to the Constitution,” and dangerously so. We don’t need to look as far back as the attempted secession behind America’s deadliest war to see just how dangerous this idea can be — in fact, sadly, we don’t need to look further than the most recent presidential election.
As the county executive seems to admit, hedging against the language of his own resolution, we have a court system, flawed though it may be, to determine whether laws are constitutional, and county governments can’t “simply wash away” laws they don’t like. At best, this makes the resolution redundant, and at worst it subverts the document it purports to defend.
There was a time in this nation, not very long ago, when we used the word statesman, which characterized a politician who put the well-being of the nation and the rule of law above personal ambition, gain and political partisanship. John F. Kennedy wrote a book about this, Profiles in Courage.
Sadly, statesmen are now quite nearly extinct; in fact, one doubts that the likes of Rep. Maxine Waters, Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Kathy Hochul, former Rep. Liz Cheney and their ilk would be as likely able to define the word as the newest Supreme Court justice was to define the word woman. This destructive factionalism has a trickle-down effect that affects most institutions in the nation, from the military to local school systems.
Today, we see one political party marching in lock-step toward an end that is only centered on gaining votes in future elections, with an end toward socialism and personal gain, in total disregard for the founding values and the Constitution of the nation; while the other party is too busy with internecine feuding to see further than personal and factional gains.
As these trends continue and harden to the point that a return to rational politics seems impossible to imagine, one can see the absolute brilliance of Hamilton and Madison in Federalist Numbers 9 and 10, “The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection.” That should be required reading, as all the Federalist Papers should.
In the midst of this muckfest comes a glimmer of local hope in Putnam County Executive Kevin Byrne’s attempt to bring reason to our county by declaring it a Constitutional County. In opposing state and federal laws that stand in clear and direct opposition to our Constitution, and, in the case of Hochul and our perverse state Legislature, defiance of the highest court of the land, Byrne shows that there is still hope for statesmanship, and that political courage is not extinct.
Any citizen who loves this country for which it stands beyond the doublespeak of contemporary politics and perversion, and understands the magnificent uniqueness of our system, should not hesitate to support Byrne’s effort.