Montana Governor on 'Real ID' Act

Montana is one of several states that have balked at a federal law requiring states to issue tamper-proof identification cards to residents. Gov. Brian Schweitzer discusses his state's opposition.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now, a story about a fight, where the rights of states are colliding with a law designed to improve national security. It's about Real ID.

A federal law requires states to issue tamper-proof identification cards to residents. But a number of states have balked.

The Department of Homeland Security has told them that if they don't file for an extension by the end of this month, residents of those states won't be able to use their driver's licenses to board planes starting in May.

Democrat Brian Schweitzer of Montana is one governor ardently opposed to the Real ID Act. And he joins us now from Helena.

Governor Schweitzer, why are you against Real ID?

Governor BRIAN SCHWEITZER (Democrat, Montana): Well, we are putting up with the federal government on so many fronts, and nearly every month they come out with another harebrained scheme, an unfunded mandate to tell us that our life is going to be better if we'll just buckle under on some other kind of rule or regulation. And we usually just play along for a while, we ignore them for as long as we can, and we try not to bring it to a head. But if it comes to a head, we found that it's best to just tell them to go to hell and run the state the way you want to run your state. And unfortunately, this time around, they have - they really got a harebrained scheme.

This is the way it works. This Real ID that Congress has come up with was supposed to help us in immigration and homeland security, also supposed to stop the identity theft. Come on. These Real IDs won't even be available for another, what are they saying, seven years? Eight years? There is no Real ID. So they're telling these states that you have to take the first step towards a secure ID, and that first step is to send us a letter that says that you will accept our provision sometime in the future, when we decide what those will be.

BLOCK: Do you understand the national security concerns here? I mean, the argument is made that during the attacks on 9/11, the hijackers had lots and lots of state licenses and government ID cards, and the idea here is let's have a standardized system, everybody has the same standards, and there's some accountability here.

Gov. SCHWEITZER: Almost all of those hijackers on 9/11 would have qualified to have a Real ID. This is the way the system works. You walk into a driver's license bureau in a state someplace, and you present them with a birth certificate. Problem is, is that we don't have a standardized process of birth certificates across this country. You give me a half a dozen of high school students in a Kinkos, and I'll show you a bunch of birth certificates that look very, very real. So you start with a little bit of garbage, and then as you move through the process, by the time you get to Congress and you present them with your Real ID or you get on an airplane from New York to Chicago and you present a Real ID, it appears as though you have the gold standard of identification.

Well, so that everyone understands, the Montana legislature passed a bill that instructs the governor and the attorney general not to implement any provisions of the Real ID. And this is the only thing that I know of that has united the farthest left to the farthest right in Montana politics. There was not one dissenting vote out of 150 legislators. They simply said we're fed up with the federal government coming up with kookie IDs that do not make us more secure. This is the federal government telling a state must do something and you must pay for it. Well, thanks for playing. Montana's not in.

BLOCK: Well, Governor Schweitzer, what happens in May if somebody from your state wants to get on a commercial flight?

Gov. SCHWEITZER: They're going to show them their Montana driver's license, and they're going to get on that commercial flight. Nothing's going to happen.

BLOCK: But that's supposed to be the deadline.

Gov. SCHWEITZER: Blah, blah, blah, supposed to be the deadline. There's nothing in the Constitution that tells Homeland Security that they're supposed to do this or they must do this. In fact, there isn't even any actions by Congress that says this is the specific letter that you must have. This is another bluff by some bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., and thank God, we live a long ways from Washington, D.C.

BLOCK: Well, Governor Schweitzer, it's great to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Gov. SCHWEITZER: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Governor Brian Schweitzer, Democrat from Montana.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And the Department of Homeland Security sent us a statement today that says, in part, showing up at the airport with a Montana driver's license will be no better than showing up without any ID.

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