NRI’s 2010 Challenge Winners
Worthy ideas from within and beyond the Beltway.


Kate O'Beirne

Reduce the power and perks of public-sector unions. Numerous entries express frustration with the pay, perks, and political clout of public-sector employees. Gregory Erickson of Tennessee recommends a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce, and Joseph Canouse of Georgia proposes reducing compensation and instating a hiring freeze. Two contestants — Kent Osband from Connecticut and Benjamin Pugh from California — propose a “public parity” reform that would prohibit average wages and benefits in public employment from exceeding the average wages and benefits for comparable private employment. Peter McFadden of New York suggests that government employers should cease making automatic payroll deductions for union dues.

Jay Pittard of Green Mountain, N.C., proposes the boldest reform to address the abuses of public-sector unions. He writes, “The combination of union power with the pre-existing protections of the Civil Service has created a class of overpaid untouchables. Either a union or the Civil Service code is protection enough for anyone. Nobody needs both.” He recommends that Congress prohibit unions for federal employees. Camela Sutton, a homeschooling mother from Washington State, also recommends the elimination of public-sector unions.

Ensure constitutional literacy. Many readers believe that one reason the Founders’ legacy is in jeopardy is that too few Americans are familiar with it. Jerry Hashimoto, a pastry chef from Berkeley, Calif., suggests that high-school students should have to pass an exam demonstrating their familiarity with the Constitution and other founding documents as a prerequisite for graduation.

Note: Of course, the possibility of dubious constitutional interpretation by education bureaucrats poses a real cause for concern. We would like to suggest a ready-made solution: States should require high-school students pass the same fact-based exam that our nation’s immigrants must pass to gain American citizenship.

Tap the power of the states. Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute in Arizona writes that when our nation’s capital is under hostile control, the best course of action is recourse to the states. Because the Constitution reserves most powers to the states or to the people, state constitutions should be among our first lines of defense in the protection of our freedoms. State constitutions provide fertile ground for both offensive and defensive action. For example, he suggests that advocates of limited government could amend state constitutions to require states to decline unfunded mandates. Strong signals from state governments that they take their constitutional role seriously should make Washington more cautious about supporting overly ambitious national legislative agendas.

– Kate O’Beirne is president of National Review Institute.