Chenault’s War: House Bill 69

Chenault’s War: House Bill 69

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[last updated Sunday, 8pm]

Writing legislation, broadly speaking, isn’t as hard as one might think it is. Covering it should be even easier. Whether a bill is thousands of pages long and rewrites healthcare policy, or a couple paragraphs specifying how to fold the Alaska state flag appropriately, there are certain general rules guiding the construction of any piece of legislation.

  1. Step one: legislation starts with a preamble, explaining the parts of the bill lawmakers want you to know about.
  2. Step two: there will be the body of the bill, broken into sections that list each specific change in current law being proposed, and linking to the existing statutes that the bill addresses.
  3. The final step is the enactment clause, which outlines how and when the law takes effect.

The media, charged with covering bills as they “Schoolhouse Rock” themselves towards becoming law, have the more challenging responsibility of breaking down the bills – translating the legalese, wonkspeak, and just-plain-partisan horse pucky – and explaining what they actually intend to do, what they might unintentionally do, and whether or not they are realistic prescriptions to solve actual problems.

This crucial scrutiny eventually (hopefully) results in a careful and accurate evaluation of suggested policy that will affect our daily lives. But sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s where the all too important wheels fall. That’s when we lose the protections enshrined in the First Amendment – protections we really, really need.

Something really important to focus on, when reviewing legislation, is that steps one and two don’t always wind up as being compatible with each other. Sometimes the lawmaker who really wants you to like his proposed law will give a nondescript or downright misleading title. There is no rule against using the preamble to make your bill sound better than it is. It’s the hook, after all. But there needs to be a truthiness test, and that test is administered by the reporter disseminating the information to the public.

But what if that test fails to be applied?

Let’s role play.

I am an elected official who is introducing legislation. You are the gumshoe reporter assigned a story on it. I say that it’s a bill about puppies. The preamble to my bill says “An Act establishing a home for all puppies and an ensuing happiness for all Alaskans.”

It’s given rave reviews by the public, because human beings love puppies. As they should.

But you, as the diligent reporter you are, look through the body and notice something. Section 1 of the bill absolutely is designed to provide puppies with a home. But you notice that section 2 goes into what penalties should be applied when someone refuses to open up their home to a new puppy. Perhaps they already have dogs, or are allergic, or fail to have a home. What happens?

Section 2 says: “Upon violation of this law, marijuana shall be legalized in the state, effective within thirty days of the offense.”

Well, now. That was unexpected.

Do you still report this as a law providing a home for puppies? Because, while it does seek to provide a home for puppies, it is clearly also a pretty radical change in drug policy, wrapped up in a nice “how could you argue this?” package.

Choosing to report that the bill is a puppy law – and solely a puppy law – would be dishonest and a disservice to the public depending on your evaluation.

End role play. Back to reality.

House Bill 69 should be the top story in Alaska right now. The legislation, introduced by the Speaker of the House, Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski), has been advertised as a gun rights bill. It was introduced in Juneau last Wednesday. ADN put out initial introduction to the gun legislation; KTVA buried a mention of it in a piece about Obama’s proposals pertaining to firearms. By Friday, an Associated Press article covering it made the rounds in the Empire, the ADN, the News Miner, and KTUU. It was five sentences and entitled: “Chenault defends his gun rights bill.”

The problem? This isn’t a gun rights bill.

HB69 is about nullification. That’s not hyperbole; that’s what Representative Chenault called it.

If the proposal were to become law, anything the federal government does regarding the possession or acquisition of a firearm would be ruled invalid by the state of Alaska. Any federal agent attempting to enforce laws enacted by the federal government of the United States would be subject to arrest. Patriotism, according to Chenault, means going over the head of the leader of the free world. Supremacy Clause be damned.

Putting country first doesn’t generally translate to wholly discounting the United States Constitution.

The Speaker admitted that sort of action might be seen by the courts as unconstitutional. In fact, over 200 years of legal precedent holds that Chenault’s bill is a dumb idea, based on the same thin legal opinion used to by Andrew Jackson to defend slavery and laws supporting segregation in the 1950’s.

Over background checks? Over closing the gun show loophole? Over bogey man legislation that has yet to be written?

Sanity has not been given a seat at this table. Neither has a basic understanding of American history – a tool worth equipping in one’s tool belt, especially when holding elected office. Chenault’s actions this week – in the first week of the session – is political malfeasance.

HB69, and the audacity of its petulant author who proposed it with a straight face, should have every citizen wide eyed. It should be leading the nightly news. None of that has happened yet. That absence is concerning.

The notion that a single state has the authority to ignore the laws of the Union is what made possible the Civil War. The immovably thoughtless who cheer this idea on are promulgating a pathology in which the affected can’t recognize death and destruction from the Super Bowl, with the Speaker of the House stoking the fire.

Thus far, the nullification law has been excused by the nightly news, as has its ring leader. We need to speak up about that. This deserves more than a single five sentence AP article.

This is not a ball we can afford to drop.

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John Aronno is a co-founder, managing editor, and award winning political writer at Alaska Commons. Aronno has had his work featured in the Huffington Post, the Anchorage Press, the Alaska Dispatch, and the Rachel Maddow Show, and is listed among the state’s top reporters on the Washington Post’s “The Fix.” He writes the weekly column “On Politics” for Alaska Commons. Aronno lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his wife, Heather Aronno, and a lot of pets.

23 COMMENTS

  1. “Thomas Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions claim that the U. S. Constitution was a compact among the several states-whereby the states delegated certain limited powers to the U.S. government; any undelegated power exercised by the U. S. government is thus void. Furthermore, the general government is not the final and authoritative judge of its own powers, since that would make the government’s discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of those powers-but rather the parties to the contract, the states, have each an equal right to judge for themselves whether the Constitution has been violated as well as “the mode and measure of redress”-since there is no common judge of such matters among them. Thus, every state can of its own authority nullify within its territory “all assumptions of power by others”-i.e., all perceived violations of the Constitution by the federal government.”

    PATRIOTS have got THOMAS JEFFERSON on our side. What have U GOT?!!! MSNBC!??!

    • The Kentucky Resolutions, like the Virginia Resolutions, aren’t the law of the land.

      You haven’t got Jefferson, you’ve got delusions.

  2. “The theory of nullification has been rejected repeatedly by the courts. The courts have found that under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, federal law is superior to state law, and that under Article III of the Constitution, the federal judiciary has the final power to interpret the Constitution. Therefore, the power to make final decisions about the constitutionality of federal laws lies with the federal courts, not the states, and the states do not have the power to nullify federal laws.”

    I got my issues with the Supreme Court myself – and I would back your claim if you chose to make it. TJ isn’t God and I could point you to a dozen things that fool says that are wrong, and another dozen he gets right. The common judge he refers to is the Supreme Court, which is part of the Federal Government but noticeably separate – much like Congress.

    We ain’t MSNBC anyhow, they wouldn’t even bother with an article like this. They don’t got the balls to call it out.

    • WJ- You state the Federal Supreme Court makes the ultimate decision on constitutionality of a Federal law. And that the judicial sector of the government is noticeably separate – much like Congress. I’ll have to disagree on that. The judges who preside over the Supreme Court are not elected by the citizens of America, they are appointed by the President and thus often and frequently favor the wishes of their own nominator or that person’s party. They are specifically nominated and seated in a deliberate attempt to sway the “legality” of Federal laws if those issues ever come before them. Allowing a Federal court to determine the legitimacy of a Federal law over State law is like giving the keys to the hen house to the fox to protect them.

      • Saul, good point. The original intent of the founders for the presidency as well as the SC was not partisanship for sure. Your point raises some interesting questions about what if anything we should do about it.

      • You can ‘disagree’, that’s nothing more than your opinion.

        Your opinion doesn’t alter the reality.

  3. I have no comments on the article as such, I just appreciate seeing “Schoolhouse Rock” used as a verb phrase.

  4. Actually, I do. Have you considered the possibility that this bill is being under-reported/not explored in-depth because nobody on the Juneau beat for these media outlets think it’s going anywhere? I know that lots and lots of ridiculous bills (from both sides of the aisle) get proposed down in DC every year, but you never hear about them because everyone knows they’re not going to pass. I’m not saying this is the case with this bill, but perhaps the reporters covering it think so.

    • Chugach, I think that journalists shouldn’t be making judgment calls on the fate of legislation. If it’s newsworthy – if it has a potential impact on their readership, it needs to be reported on. Assuming that crazy goes away isn’t a responsible way to report. Most people don’t wonk out and review bills. They wait to get angry or active over a particular issue until the media alerts them to its existence. A lot of the stuff that doesn’t get reported on slips through the cracks. Sometimes that’s how laws are born.

  5. Good article John. You are right about calling out the crazy. Ignoring your weird uncle sitting in the corner wearing a tinfoil hat doesn’t make that uncle any less unbalanced. He’s likely harmless but you surely wouldn’t want to make him the family patriarch.

  6. Wouldn’t the present situation whereby Washington state and Colorado both passing State laws allowing the legal use of marijuana be construed as a bold attempt at nullification of the Federal laws prohibiting such use? Not to mention the many years old medical marijuana laws in what, 37 states now, that butts heads with the Federal laws. I’m not aware of any Federal law allowing medical marijuana use otherwise there would be no need for states to adopt their own laws. So, does this mean nullification actually is alive and accepted (recognized/acknowledged) by the Federal government as a genuine state’s right after all?

    • Saul, no. Anti-prohibition laws don’t seek to claim primacy over federal laws. They enact state policy that conflicts with federal law. HB69 differs in that it seeks to incriminate federal agents enforcing federal law in the states.

  7. I think that no matter how insanely delusional Chenault’s actions are, it is quite apparent that this merely exemplifies exactly the type of delusional insanity that resonates with a significant portion of Alaska’s current population.

    Will the clearly extra-legal and unConstitutional attempt at nullification be publicly denounced for it’s simplistic insanity by any other sitting politician? I wouldn’t hold your breath.

    Will Chenault show any concern for his clear dereliction of office? Looking back at his history of contemptible and derelict actions, no, there’s little evidence he’s apt to admit any concern whatsoever.

    Will there be any accountability whatsoever? That would entail unified and diligent effort from a significant portion of the populace.

    Yeah, …it’s not happening, this is Alaska, a place where you’re unlikely to mistakenly think Alaskans were at all aware that they were living more than 12 years into the twenty first century.

    • I have never read such verbal vomit. HB 69 is an attempt to protect the Second Amendment rights of Alaskans. You won’t be so against nullification if/when the federal government starts infringing upon the First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments…now would you? Or are you ready an willing to live with tyranny? Two words for you: MOLON LABE!!

      • Our Second Amendment rights are explicitly protected already in both our state and national constitution. This is about arresting federal agents for fictional laws that don’t exist. It’s an attempt to nullify the supremacy clause to satisfy a bloated legislator’s temper tantrum. Two words for you: defervesco et legere.

        • John, you must be a Democrat and an Obama bot. Nullification is very much constitutional. What the Democrats (fascists) are doing to this nation is mind boggling, but then the Repubs and the Dems are two sides of the same fascist coin. Let’s see here: the passage of the NDAA 2011, the reinstatement of the Patriot act, Obamacare, etc, etc. Meanwhile, neither party is strictly adhering to the constitution of the United States, which by the way ALLOWS for NULLIFICATION.

          • No, you’re woefully misinformed. There is no provision in the Constitution that allows for nullification. You’re claims absolutely have no legitimacy whatsoever.

            Nullification is unConstitutional. There is no question, it’s not up for debate, it’s been decided in the courts several times over many decades. It’s not something you can decide for yourself, it’s an actuality, an unchangeable part of present day reality.

            Where do you get your malformed opinions? Wherever you have been, whatever you’ve been listening to, you haven’t been anywhere, or heard anything close to any actual reality, you speak total gibberish.

            Thankfully, unlike nullification, your state of incomprehension is reversible, you can choose to change that. I’d get to it if I was you, your case is so serious, you don’t have any time to spare.

      • Stephanie, you’re grasp of civics is tenuous at best.

        I’m sure there is an institution of higher learning near you where you could enroll and learn how to apply yourself as a responsible citizen wishing to petition his or her government. See, in America, we have a process whereby you can do so, and you really ought to discover what that entails rather than being led astray by someone feeding you myth and fantasy.

        Becoming attached to fantasy isn’t going to help you or anyone else.

What do you think?