Two days after George W. Bush was inaugurated as president in 2001, his brother Jeb sent him a nine-page letter on the subject of yielding federal power in favor of state control. Jeb Bush was still in his first term as governor of Florida at the time, but he knew the ties between Washington and statehouses had gone wrong.
“Many governors feel – and can substantiate – that the relationship…has undergone a precipitous deterioration,” he wrote, not mentioning President Clinton but clearly referring to the actions of his administration.
The problem was two fold. When the federal government was supposed to take responsibility, it often left states “to fend for themselves.” And worse, it would “extend its reach” into state matters where it lacked competence. A better balance between federal and state responsibility was needed, Jeb Bush wrote.
Things didn’t change much during his brother’s administration. In fact, many conservatives were furious with No Child Left Behind, the education program that injected the federal government into school issues, notably testing of students, at the state and local level.
Jeb Bush is still looking for that balance. He believes that after nearly seven years of the Obama presidency, “federal overreach is worse than ever,” a Bush adviser told me.
As a presidential candidate, Bush has decided to start planning to do something about it. He has appointed Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, to head a group to find the best ways to “rebalance” the federal-state relationship. Along with the appointment, Bush got Pruitt’s endorsement for president.
Pruitt, 47, is a major political figure in Oklahoma and a fierce opponent of expanding federal power. He has sued the Obama administration a number of times. He targeted Obamacare in one lawsuit. He has filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency.
He is expected to recruit other Republican attorneys general to join his group. It has been Republican AGs who have succeeded in several cases, particularly on environmental issues, against the federal government. They refer to themselves as the “last line of defense” against federal encroachment on state authority.
Bush and Pruitt are like-minded in their view of the federal government. Unlike his father, former President George H. W. Bush, and his brother, Jeb Bush is a small government conservative. So is Pruitt, who is regarded as a potential candidate for governor in Oklahoma in 2018.
For them, seeking to reduce federal sway over states is a congenial political issue. It appeals to conservative voters. And it’s also an issue they believe in strongly.
Kristy Campbell, Bush’s spokeswoman, said: “President Obama has presided over massive federal overreach and an unprecedented and abuse of federal power to coerce states…On issues across the board, whether it is education or health care or land use, Governor Bush is committed to shifting more power back to the states, where the best reform ideas originate.”