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March 21, 2008

Brian Schweitzer and the Politics of Real ID

posted by Josh Goodman

Schweitzerbig_2 Real ID, the federal law that seeks to add new security features to drivers' licenses, has been a hot policy issue and federalism flashpoint for a couple of years. This fall it might become a major political issue for the first time.

For the most part, state officials despise Real ID. They view it as an under-funded mandate that usurps traditional state prerogatives.

But, for the most part, governors have asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for extensions to implement the rules. In requesting extensions, implicitly they may have resigned themselves to implementing Real ID sooner or later.

Three governors are still holdouts: Montana's Brian Schweitzer, South Carolina's Mark Sanford and Maine's John Baldacci. Schweitzer is an especially interesting case because he's up for reelection this year and, though a heavy favorite, is likely to face a credible Republican opponent in state Sen. Roy Brown.

Schweitzer doesn't sound as though he's going to ask for an extension before the March 31 deadline that Homeland Security has set. The libertarian-minded Democrat told NPR earlier this month, "If it does come to a head, we've found it is best just to tell them to go to hell, and run your state the way you want to run your state."

What would that mean? Starting May 11, less than five months before Election Day, Montanans would be unable to use drivers' licenses to board airplanes or enter federal buildings -- unless the feds back down.

The question is how this would play politically. Predisposed to mistrust the federal government, Montanans might reward Schweitzer for fighting the good fight. They also might blame him for making their lives much less convenient.


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