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Are We Really That Exceptional?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is uniquely American, reserving most governmental powers “to the states … or to the people.”

You will not find anything like it in the social democracies of Europe, the monarchies of the Middle East, or the authoritarian regimes of Russia or Asia. Perhaps Canada comes closest with its enumerated powers for Provinces, but like all the other nations in the world, Canada fails to recognize the fundamental principle which truly makes America exceptional: we know that sovereignty resides in the person.


That is why our Constitution begins, “We the People” rather than “We the Founding Fathers”, “We the Continental Congress,” or even “We the states.”

In an era when divided government has produced gridlock in Washington for six years running, both conservatives and liberals have turned to the states to implement their ideas. But it is conservatives who truly understand the full measure of the Tenth Amendment and work to preserve the rights of the people at the Federal and State levels.

That is why it is especially timely that what began as a five-state pilot project by the American Conservative Union Foundation (ACU) in 2011 has come to fruition with the publication of the nation’s first 50-state, full-spectrum legislative ratings guide. Of course there are narrow scorecards that rate specific issues (e.g., gun rights, taxes, life, etc.), but no one organization has been able to produce a comprehensive scorecard in every state—until now. This initiative builds on our 45 consecutive years of rating Congress, and is based on the same principle that has informed that effort: the understanding that the role of government is to protect the rights of the people- especially their life, their liberty, and their property.

Therefore, we are pleased that conservative state legislators have fought pitched battles to protect the life of unborn people, have provided school choice to help disadvantaged people, have improved our tax and labor laws to grow economic opportunities for all people, and have passed sound legislation to protect the real, personal and intellectual property of people.


While liberals control the levers of government in fewer states, they have not squandered their opportunities to impose big government control over people. In the last four years alone, the California legislature has passed laws making it a crime for people to openly carry a handgun, forcing people who own homes to comply with union mandates when employing nannies and caregivers, and imposing energy mandates that will increase electricity costs for all people.

We have discovered some surprising things in this process. Unlike the Congress, which generally follows the same rules from year to year, each of the 50 state legislatures operates uniquely. Producing a ratings guide requires an understanding of all 50 states’ arcane methods of dealing with legislation.

Even more surprising, commonly-held assumptions about where you might find the most conservative legislators have been turned on their heads. South Carolina, whose congressional delegation in Washington is highly rated by ACU’s standards, has a very lack luster state legislature. Not a single legislator scored higher than 88%, and one Republican senator scored 0%. On the other hand, Vermont—the home of Bernie Sanders—includes a Democrat who scored a perfect 100% (kudos to State Representative Cynthia Browning!).

As for the most conservative legislature in the country, the honor goes to the Tennessee General Assembly. Remarkably, 95% of all the Republican legislators received an award from us and every single person in leadership, in both the House and Senate, received our highest award for scoring at least 90%. It is widely recognized that this great legislature is the legacy of Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey who built this conservative majority over his 24 years of service in the Assembly. He is a great example to us all.


Because liberals and conservatives are focusing their efforts on the states, it is more critical than ever that all Americans know how their elected officials view the role of government in their lives. As for ACU, we will continue to evaluate all 535 Members of Congress and 7,383 legislators throughout the country to determine if they understand that which truly makes America exceptional, the understanding that sovereignty resides in the person.

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