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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, speaks to students in the House chamber during the congressman's annual education conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 30, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, looked more like the high school history teacher he was years ago Friday when he lectured students participating in his annual education conference about federalism at the state Capitol.

Pacing the floor of the state House chamber in front of advanced placement students seated at the desks of state representatives, Bishop acknowledged the topic is often seen as making listeners' "eyes glaze over."

But using references to the musical "1776" about the signing of the Declaration of Independence and a series of slides, Bishop tried to stress the importance of what he described as a system where neither state nor national government dominates.

"Federalism is not liberal, is not conservative, is not Republican, is not Democratic," said Bishop, a former Utah House speaker and Box Elder High School history and government teacher who was first elected to Congress in 2002.

He spoke of the need for limiting the role of Washington, D.C., but said "a smaller federal government doesn't necessarily mean less government overall. It means government programs closer to the people."

His breakout session with students was one of a half-dozen held during the nearly daylong conference. Others focused on the congressional committee process, including a mock hearing, executive branch agencies and lobbying.

Another member of Utah's congressional delegation, Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, also addressed the entire group to compare local and national governments.

Curtis, a former Provo mayor, pointed out that state lawmakers often do what they complain the federal government does: Impose their will on cities and other local entities.

"Would it surprise you that as a mayor, I got mad at the state all the time for telling us what to do in our city?" Curtis asked, noting state lawmakers consider that different since they see local governments as political subdivisions of the state.

"It's the principle. What's the principle? The form of government closest to the people is the best to make the decision," he said, calling that concept "a strong, strong Utah value."

Asked what could go wrong with federalism, Curtis answered, "Not as much as can go right."

Timary Sessions, a senior at Clearfield High School, questioned Curtis about the federal government's involvement in advancing civil rights and other issues through legislative action and court decisions.

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Curtis said it is up to voters, not other governments, to step in when local entities or states get something wrong. It's the people who make those decisions, he said, and "Guess what, next election that will be taken care of."

Sessions said she would have liked to have heard alternative viewpoints about federalism from Curtis. She said she believes the federal government needs to step in when states rights come at the expense of civil rights.

"That's the reason why we have this system in place, is because one way isn't right," she said. "I think this being an educational opportunity, those ideas should have been presented and allowed to flourish."