As is pretty much always the case, there are just too many interesting things popping up in Colorado politics these days, making my job as a commentator a challenge (ed: seriously?).
As a huge space program fan, I am tempted to write about the recent launch of the Artemis spacecraft, which is now en route to the moon. There are many good reasons to support NASA and our space efforts, and there are many, many Colorado connections to Artemis. Very cool things are being built here in the Centennial State that will land on Mars, orbit the Earth, and, well, go to the Moon as we speak. It’s certainly true that there are many legitimate questions about what we should and shouldn’t do regarding human crewed missions, but I’ll put this controversy on hold for now and move on.
I’m always tempted to write about the recent election, particularly the ongoing counts in Colorado District 3, where Colorado’s most famous (and notorious) member of the House of Representatives, US Rep. Lauren Boebert, appears to have a narrow lead of votes, damn it all. But I’m sure you’re all pretty fed up with the election news, so I’ll let Boebert go for now too.
Heck, I thought I’d write about the election results that were the most confusing to me: the Colorado voters deciding that going forward it’ll be okay for people to pick up a bottle of wine at their grocery stores alongside the ones they already have beer, but that’s it Not For food delivery services, it’s okay to bring a bottle of beer along with a burger you order from a local restaurant or bar.
So if you want a beer to go with the Red Robin burger (Whiskey River BBQ burger, no onions) that you have delivered, you do yourself have to run to the supermarket for the beer because it’s somehow wrong to have both delivered together? Seems silly to me and I really don’t understand why people voted that way. But since I have nothing to add, let’s let this topic slide as well.
Instead, I would like to draw your attention to the town of Hobbs, New Mexico. As reported in the always interesting Out West Roundup, Hobbs’ all-male city commission voted 7-0 to bar any abortion clinics from opening in this beautiful southeastern New Mexico city. These men want their city to be known as “a haven for the unborn.”
The state of New Mexico has a Democratic governor who just won a new term, partly on a promise to protect abortion rights. And New Mexico, like Colorado, overall will likely be a place where women can make their own reproductive decisions without government interference. Both states will reject post-Roe efforts by far-right elements in the GOP to secure a state-by-state ban on abortion if the GOP cannot get one nationally. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the Hobbs Commission’s statement “(an) affront to the rights and personal autonomy of every woman in Hobbs and southeastern New Mexico, and we will not condone that.” And of course it is.
But here’s the thing: federalism.
When I taught the Constitution to my students at the Air Force Academy, I found that they easily understood the concept of separation of powers — an important protection built into the Constitution that separates government into distinct branches — legislative, executive, and judicial. In theory, this structure of government prevents a single person or small group from gaining too much power. But the Miscellaneous great protection that the founders installed, the concept of Federalism, was much more difficult to fully understand.
Almost all government has different levels, often national, state and local government. But in so-called “single” systems, as in France and many other countries, the top tier of government – the national level – can oversee and control the layers below. The middle level is allowed to supervise the lowest level. So the old political scientist jokes that the French education minister could look at his watch every day and know which page in which textbook every fifth grader in France is on. It’s not quite as accurate, but you get the idea.
However, a system based on federalism is different. Although they share the same base structure of the federal, state, and local levels of government, the main difference in a federal system is that each level has responsibilities that cannot be overridden by any level above. While the New Mexico governor can rail against what she sees as an outrageous example of male dominance and control of local women’s rights, she can’t really do anything about it. The Hobbs City Commission voted, and that commission alone decides what buildings can be built and what types of stores can be opened. There are exceptions, of course, but you get my bigger point). So there will be no Planned Parenthood office in Hobbs, and that’s a shame.
Hobbs is a relatively small town of about 34,000, so it was unlikely to become a major reproductive rights center anyway, and the all-male commission’s vote certainly suggests, if not a degree, of tutelage and religious zeal Misogyny, but the decision seems entirely within the powers given to this commission. The Hobbs people will have the opportunity to eventually vote on these commissioners, and if they do not reflect the will of the community, they will be replaced by other elected officials who do. That’s one of the great things about our system.
So in the small community of Hobbs, New Mexico, we see another example of the wisdom of the Founders and how well they built our system. Federalism remains an important bulwark against tyranny, even when we disagree with a particular decision.
Hal Bidlack is a retired political science professor and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who has taught for more than 17 years at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.