Here in Washington, the immigration debate is in stalemate. But in Kansas, there has been a breakthrough.
This striking achievement came about last week during a meeting of the state House Appropriations Committee on efforts in Kansas to shoot feral swine from helicopters. Republican state Rep. Virgil Peck suddenly had an idea. "Looks like to me if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works," he commented, according to a recording posted by the Lawrence Journal-World, "maybe we have found a problem to our illegal immigration problem."
Brilliant! Shooting immigrants from helicopter gunships! Why didn't they think of that in Congress?
There are a few logistical problems with Peck's idea, including the fact that Kansas isn't a border state. But maybe Oklahoma and Texas will grant overflight rights for immigrant-hunting sorties.
Peck, the Republican caucus chairman for the state House, later suggested his brainstorm was a joke, although he also defended himself: "I was just speaking like a southeast Kansas person."
Kansans may be surprised to learn that the immigrant-shooting idea was offered in their names, but they wouldn't be the only Americans getting unwelcome news from their state legislators now that many tea party types have come to power.
When Louis Brandeis called state legislatures "laboratories of democracy," he couldn't have imagined the curious formulas the tea party chemists would be mixing in 2011, including: a bill just passed by the Utah Legislature requiring the state to recognize gold and silver as legal tender; a Montana bill declaring global warming "beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana"; a plan in Georgia to abolish driver's licenses because licensing violates the "inalienable right" to drive; legislation in South Dakota that would require every adult to buy a gun; and the Kentucky Legislature's effort to create a "sanctuary state" for coal, safe from environmental laws.
In Washington, the whims of the tea party lawmakers have been tempered, by President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats, but also by House Republican leaders who don't want the party to look crazy. Yet these checks often do not exist in state capitols. Though many of the proposals will never become law, the proliferation of exotic policies gives Americans a sense of what tea party rule might look like.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to strip public-sector unions of their power has gained national attention, as have various states' efforts to imitate Arizona's immigration crackdown. Arizona, meanwhile, moved on to an attempt to assert its authority to nullify federal law; the last time that was tried, we had the Civil War.
Less well known is what's going on in Montana. Legislators there have introduced several bills that would nullify federal law, including health care reform, the Endangered Species Act, gun laws and food-safety laws. Under one legislative proposal, FBI agents couldn't operate in the state without the permission of county sheriffs. Legislators are also looking into a proposed resolution calling on Congress to end membership in the United Nations.
A "birther" bill, similar to proposals in various other states, would require presidential candidates they're talking about you, Obama to furnish proof of citizenship that is satisfactory to state authorities. Montana has also joined the push in many states to restore the gold standard, and a Montana House committee approved legislation invalidating municipal laws against anti-gay discrimination.
Then there's House Bill 278, authorizing armed citizens' militias known as "home guards." With the home guards mobilized, Montana would no longer have to fear a Canadian invasion. And while Montana repels the barbarians from Alberta, New Hampshire is contemplating a state "defense force" to protect it from the marauding Quebecois.
Some of the proposals are ominous: South Dakota would call it justifiable homicide if a killer is trying to stop harm to an unborn child.
Some are petty: Wyoming, following Oklahoma, wants to ban Sharia law, even though that state's 200-odd Muslims couldn't pose much of a Sharia threat.
Some are mean-spirited: Iowa would allow business owners to refuse goods and services to those in gay marriages.
Some are fairly harmless: Arizona took actions to make the Colt Single Action Army Revolver the official state firearm and to create a tea party license plate.
And some are just silly: A Georgia bill would require only "pre-1965" silver and gold coins for payment of state debts.
Even if the tea party gets its way in the Legislature, it won't be easy to stop residents of Georgia from using their greenbacks at first. But compliance will undoubtedly increase once the state calls in those helicopter gunships from Kansas.