Headshot of an active but elderly man

As coequal stewards of political legitimacy in the American Republic, senior legislators representing 18 states will join PT's Roundtable II to discuss the role they can—or should —play in our federal system.

Two hundred and twenty years ago, a distinguished group of statesmen assembled in Philadelphia to draft a new Constitution. They struggled to balance sectional interests and concerns about unrestrained power in a principled yet pragmatic document. But the ultimate source of political power was never in doubt: the consent of the governed. Decision-making authority was spread between the two levels and three separate branches, but political legitimacy—the right to govern—flowed through both national and state governments.

The republican model has since evolved through judicial interpretation and circumstance. But over the past century, its weight has tilted sharply toward Washington. The causes are many, but the nation now confronts the result: an executive that consumes national media attention and freely defends its “privilege” to do what it wants; a Congress hobbled by gerrymandered re-elections and a permanent campaign cycle in which only the partisan survive; and a Supreme Court that increasingly rules by single-member majorities and fragmented decisions.

Through their elected state and local governments, the citizenry of the country have borne the brunt of this political maelstrom across a well-publicized range of policy areas. These include: broader access to medical care, quality education, affordable housing, energy, immigration and criminal justice policies, and a proposed REAL ID program whose cost and impact remain virtually unknown to most Americans.

On August 8, senior legislators representing 18 states will join PT's Roundtable II in Boston. As coequal stewards of constitutional legitimacy, they will be asking, "What role can—or should—the states play in the federal partnership?" And ultimately, how do they
do it?

The discussion will focus on two principal topics: (1) Constitutional remedies, and (2) statewide unity. That is, can the states look to provisions such as the Electoral College and interstate compacts for relief? Or are they simply charged with becoming better lobbyists than the NAM or AARP to promote their legitimate authority? And, can the states overcome personal, party, and regional alliances (not to mention internal disputes) to act in concert—the only time they have been truly effective in the past?

There will be no easy answers—just hard questions.