If you missed Tulsa World reporter Randy Krehbiel’s Tuesday story about Real ID, go back and read it.
Real ID is the soon-to-be-fully-national standard for state identification cards. Passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on America, the 2005 federal law all but mandates certain criteria for state driver’s licenses.
I say “all but mandates” advisedly. The federal system is supposed to balance the authorities of state and national governments, each with a distinct role. What driver’s licenses look like, what information is required to get one, indeed, whether you even need one to drive a car — all of that and more — falls in the states’ domains.
But when Congress wants something, it has its ways, which is one of the big lessons of Krehbiel’s story.
A strong libertarian streak among the loudest voices in the Oklahoma Legislature led the state to resist Real ID for years. Legislation even prevented state agencies from even discussing Real ID for a decade.
My observation at the time was that a small sliver of the Legislature felt passionately about the issue for not necessarily realistic reasons, but most members thought very little about it at all at least initially. That majority was perfectly willing to let the zealots spend their time and energy tilting at federal windmills while they were writing budgets and cutting taxes.
So, we resisted.
As a result, the federal government has repeatedly threatened to stop accepting Oklahoma driver’s licenses for federally controlled activities such as admission to military bases and, most critically for ordinary Oklahomans, getting on airplanes. The longer the struggle went on, the greater the threat to ordinary commerce in the state.
So far, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has always given the state temporary waivers and Oklahomans have stayed in the air, but every time, the waivers have come with dire warnings that the U.S. government is serious about Real ID, which, they will remind you, is about fighting terrorism.
Ultimately, Oklahoma folded.
Faced with an increasingly realistic threat of unacceptable consequences to Oklahoma commerce, the majority put aside its tax and budget work long enough to hoist a white flag over the Not That Great Oklahoma Driver’s License Rebellion. Two years ago the Legislature passed a law mandating the state identification cards fully comply with the Real ID standards.
It’s taken some time to implement, but with one more federal waiver, Oklahoma is due to cross the Real ID finish line sometime this spring.
It’s been a fascinating and, for some, frightening chapter in federalism. It’s probably too early to draw any final conclusions on the state’s Real ID episode, but here are three ideas to start with:
• The fight had an undeniable paranoid element to it.
The loud voices’ fear of Big Brother controlling us through our driver’s licenses never kept me awake at night. We all know that our smartphones are a much more effective tracking device, and we pay for the privilege of carrying them.
I’ll drive without a driver’s license and dare Uncle Sam to catch me. But I don’t get more than two blocks from home without my cellphone. If I forget it, I turn around.
• We’ll probably never know if Real ID made us any safer, but until it’s proven otherwise, I’m willing to presume it’s somewhat effective.
I had a police officer tell me once that if you deflect crime, you end up with less crime. Some criminals still are determined to break laws and do, but the harder you make it, the more likely they are to lose energy or opportunity and just go away.
Could a determined terrorist figure out a means around the restrictions? Perhaps. What’s more likely is they they’ll just change their killing plans to not require a Real ID card, which may rule out commercial airplanes and military bases. That’s not inconsequential, but it’s also not the last word on the subject, either.
• The Real ID process was coercive. Driven by the 9/11 terror, Congress was determined to bend the states to its will, and, ultimately, it won.
It’s not news that federalism isn’t what it used to be. The erosion of state authority didn’t start on 9/11, but it was certainly helped along by it.
Anyone who takes pleasure in the episode because the big losers were the loud zealots of the far right should think about what happens when the national government is determined to take away some local privilege that they treasure.
Planning the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre history center