Legislators discuss Constitution with AHS students

After lofty praises for our founding document from Reps. Peter Buckley and Dennis Richardson on Constitution Day, students of Ashland High School quickly dove into the nitty-gritty, questioning how it guarantees liberties around legalized pot, guns, gay marriage, long imprisonment of accused terrorists and the use of the National Guard in long wars.

Buckley, an Ashland Democrat, dinged the federal government for failing to heed Constitutional guarantees for speedy trials of accused terrorists "even if it's scary," adding that it created a "constitutional crisis" that hasn't been dealt with yet.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Richardson, a Central Point Republican, said he had grave doubts about the War on Terror, starting with the fact it has no defined enemy or goal, insufficient protections on wiretapping and constitutional problems in the rushed passage of the Patriot Act, which he wrote a paper against but never published because "no one in my party would have read it." Richardson said, "Just because someone says it's the patriotic thing to do is incredibly stupid."

Both legislators opposed the open-ended use of the National Guard in undeclared, long-term conflicts, saying the Guard was intended for emergencies in its home state and by direction of the governor, not, as Richardson noted, "to be called up as a branch of the (regular) military ... just because the federal government is paying for everything." Richardson noted that, on this issue, "I'm in the same position as a lot of liberal Democrats."

He added that such actions skirt separation of powers contained in the Constitution because they're being done by executive order, without equal say from Congress.

Both men supported the right to bear arms, but Buckley said the original intent, to support the people's right to forcibly overthrow tyranny, "is no longer realistic, because if the people of Ashland tried to rebel against the government, they would be squashed by the army in about 10 seconds."

Clearly supporting gay marriage, students questioned the different status — domestic unions — for gays, with Buckley supporting equal status and Richardson pointing to new problems raised by it, which tread on the rights of other domestic arrangements.

Students weren't comfortable with the varied protection for those who drink alcohol vs those who smoke pot — and Buckley said they should be regulated and taxed the same because "the war on drugs is costing us lives and money and legalization is where it has to go."

Pointing to the present medical marijuana system, Richardson said "it's not working" and the whole question should be "a state's rights issue, determined by the people." Both legislators bemoaned the lack of stable funding for education, with Richardson faulting the federal government for tromping on the Constutution's "enumeration" clause that leaves to states all powers not specifically enumerated for the federal government — among them education.

The federal government skirts state's rights on education by amassing huge amounts of revenues, said Richardson, then returning funds to states only if they go along with dictates from Washington about what should be taught.

One of those mandates from Congress is that schools receiving any federal aid must teach a unit on the Constitution every Constitution Day, Sept. 17 — thus the presentation by Buckley and Richardson.

Asked how they think the framers of the Constitution would grade the performance of politicians and "we the people" in their use of that document after 223 years, both legislators said they would give a thumbs-up, mainly because of expansions of freedom, especially in full liberties for women and once-enslaved blacks.

The legislators repeatedly emphasized the radical and game-changing nature of the Constitution, which stated the then-unheard of words, "we the people," trumping the age-old divine right of kings and affirming, said Buckley, that "ordinary people can govern themselves" — a model since copied by almost the whole world.

Share This Story