Op-Ed: A Republican in Favor of Question 6 (Same Sex Marriage)

Many Republican voices here in Maryland are calling on people to vote “No” on all of the state ballot questions. I am not one of them. I’m suggesting that people ought to be voting “Yes” on at least one question – Question 6.

I hear a wide variety of objections from my GOP friends to this stance, so I’d like to address them quickly.

Marriage equality is no threat to religious liberty. American courts have always been extremely respectful of freedom of religion and still are today. When churches in America can still legally refuse to marry an interracial couple, have a woman as a priest, or hire a gay person as a Sunday school teacher there is little reason to think any effort to force them to marry same-sex couples would meet with success.

Likewise, marriage equality is no threat to the traditional definition of marriage. If you’re married and you oppose gay marriage, let me ask you something – when did you consider yourself married, when the priest pronounced you man and wife or when your marriage license was recorded at the courthouse? I’m going to wager almost everyone will say it’s the former.

Why is that the case? The reason is simple – there are two kinds of marriage. The first is (Big-M) Marriage, the long-standing social institution that is a foundation of society. The second is (little-m) marriage, a contract between two consenting adults that government uses for classification purposes regarding select benefits and tax obligations.

So given that reality, how can a narrow change in the legal meaning of civil marriage possibly be any threat to Marriage, an institution that has existed for millennia and easily predates the creation of government? Simply put, it can’t.

On the other hand, overturning Maryland’s same-sex marriage law does threaten something: freedom of contract.

We’ve already established that there are key differences between the Marriages done by churches and the marriages offered by the state. Limiting access to that contract to only two adults of different genders is to deny them freedom of contract just as surely as it would be to say two Asians couldn’t create a joint partnership or two Catholics couldn’t jointly lease a property. All are arbitrary limitations, without any compelling state interest, on freedom of contract – one of the foundations of all market economies.

It is disappointing that it has taken our great state so long to rectify this shameful inequity, but at least we’ve taken a step in the right direction. Don’t let yourselves be confused by issues that aren’t really in play – vote “Yes” on Question 6 and vote in favor of more freedom and a less intrusive government.

Please note, that while I am an elected member of the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee, I am not speaking on behalf of the committee.

Op-Ed: Is Citizens United Really One of the Worst Supreme Court Decisions Ever?

That’s what Sen. Ben Cardin apparently thinks, or at least so I heard him say on the radio this morning.

To be generous, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I doubt he really believes that and he’s only making such statements because they’re politically convenient.

Damning with faint praise? The alternative is much worse. Here are 10 Supreme Court decisions that Cardin would potentially be ranking as less offensive than Citizens United.

  1. Dred Scott v Sandford – I believe most people are familiar with this case, where the Supreme Court held that no African American could be considered a U.S. citizen and further held that slaves could not be freed by transport into free states.
  2. Schenck v United States – A lesser known case, here the court ruled that the defendant, who had protested the draft during WWI, was not protected by the First Amendment when making such speech. As a result Schenck was imprisoned for printing and distributing pamphlets critical of the draft.
  3. Buck v Bell – One of the multiple opinions on this list written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Supreme Court upheld a government policy of compulsory sterilization of the unfit, including the mentally handicapped. It is particularly notorious for Holmes quip “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
  4. Plessy v Ferguson – Another well known case, the Supreme Court ruled in this opinion that the policy of “Separate, but Equal” did not violate the protections guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
  5. Bowers v Hardwick – A disgustingly recent ruling (determined in 1986), the Court held that it was permissible to jail homosexual men and women for consensually engaging in oral and anal sex.
  6. Wickard v Filburn – A Depression era case, Roscoe Filburn, a farmer, had been growing wheat in excess of government set caps but was only using it for use on his own farm. The Court ruled that the government could legitimately require him to destroy the excess wheat and pay a fine on the basis that this wheat, grown for personal use only, constituted interstate commerce.
  7. Korematsu v United States – A case from WWII, Korematsu was suing the U.S. government to overturn FDR’s executive order placing all persons of Japanese ancestry into internment camps without any trial or charge. The Supreme Court upheld the order, claiming no wrongdoing on the part of the government.*
  8. Kelo v City of New London – A recent case, the Supreme Court ruled that a government can rightfully take private property and then transfer it to other private entities on the mere basis of it serving a “public purpose,” such as claims of increased jobs and tax revenue.
  9. Gonzales v Raich – Another recent case, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government can legitimately prevent individuals from growing medical marijuana for their own use, even in states that allow medical marijuana. This case is particularly objectionable due to the Commerce Clause understanding used in the decision, an extension of the Wickard logic that growing marijuana for personal use would impact the interstate market for marijuana, a market entirely outlawed by federal law.
  10. The Slaughter-House Cases – In this case, the Supreme Court upheld a slaughterhouse monopoly granted by the state of Louisiana. The case matters however as it was the first test of the 14th Amendment and the Court signfiicantly narrowed the interpretation of it, effectively erasing the Privileges and Immunities clause by limiting it to only guaranteeing a few select items such as national citizenship and rights accruing out of the existence of the federal government, like the right to a passport or right to travel the waterways of the U.S. or to petition Congress.

Given the above, it seems abundantly clear to me that the Citizens United decision isn’t one of the worst Supreme Court rulings ever, it isn’t even in the top 10 of the worst rulings. And if you look at the effects of the rulings, on a scale of magnitude, any ill effects of Citizens United (and I think it’s debatable to what degree they are problematic) are minuscule in comparison to the 10 cases above.

Of course that means that Sen. Cardin either has an incredibly deranged moral compass and honestly thinks Citizens United is on a par with these cases or he is simply saying it because he thinks it is politically convenient (I’ll do him the service of assuming he is familiar with the history of Supreme Court jurisprudence).

Now as I said, I can’t believe that Sen. Cardin is the kind of monster that would think letting corporations independently spend money on political ads is worse than denying citizenship to African Americans, taking away free speech rights, sterilizing the mentally handicapped, enforcing racial segregation, jailing adults for consensual sex, punishing people for growing crops for their own use, imprisoning people on the basis of their ethnicity, stealing their property to enrich already well-off others, keeping individuals from growing medical marijuana in compliance with state law, or letting states trample civil and economic liberties.

However if I am right, and Sen. Cardin is only making these sort of claims about Citizens United, when it’s not even in the top 10 of worst cases, then it is incredibly insulting to the people of Maryland that he thinks we would fall for that.

It would have to mean that he either thinks we are complete ignoramuses that don’t know anything about Supreme Court history or we are moral degenerates that truly think Citizens United worse than the cases above.

If that is Sen. Cardin’s assessment of the electorate, neither speak particularly well of him nor give reason to want to see him re-elected.
*The Korematsu case is a bit personal to me. My grandmother and great-aunt, both U.S. citizens at the time were imprisoned in internment camps along with their parents and other relatives.

Op-Ed: More Concerns About Centreville Speed Cameras

As has been reported already, speed cameras are on their way to Centreville.

While the ordinance may have been passed with little fanfare or opposition, since people have become aware of it, opposition has begun to mount to the idea.

This writer has been a part of that opposition, jointly submitting a letter to the Bay Times and Record Observer highlighting several problematic aspects of the ordinance along with the generally problematic nature of speed cameras and government reliance on them.

To quickly re-cap the problems noted in the letter, Centreville will be using RedSpeed, a contractor the town of Trappe hired to run their speed camera program with and then terminated said contract with in just a year citing an unfriendly appeals process and a belief that it wasn’t the kind of thing they wanted in their town.

Additionally, and much more problematically, RedSpeed will receive a cut of each ticket that gets issued for speeding. This is seemingly in direct violation of state law which states:

If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid.

Since submitting that letter I and others have continued to research the issue and at least one more problem with the ordinance appears to have cropped up.

The ordinance establishes school zones in which the cameras can be placed and operated. This is allowed and is in fact required under state law to place speed cameras.

However, the wording is of great concern. From the ordinance:

§ 154-32. School Zones.

Subject to compliance with all applicable provisions of Section 21-803.1 of the Transportation
Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, the Town Council of Centreville hereby establishes
the following roads as School Zones:

(A) Queen Anne’s County High School Zone:
All public roads located within the corporate limits of the Town of Centreville and within a halfmile radius of Queen Anne’s County High School, which is located at 125 Ruthsburg Road,
Centreville, Maryland the location and radius of which is depicted on Exhibit A attached hereto.

(B) Centreville Middle School Zone:
All public roads located within the corporate limits of the Town of Centreville and within a halfmile radius of Centreville Middle School, which is located at 231 Ruthsburg Road, Centreville,
Maryland, the location and radius of which is depicted on Exhibit A attached hereto.

(C) Kennard Elementary School Zone:
All public roads located within the corporate limits of the Town of Centreville and within a halfmile radius of Centreville Elementary School, which is located at 420 Little Kidwell Avenue,
Centreville, Maryland, the location and radius of which is depicted on Exhibit A attached hereto.

(D) Centreville Elementary School Zone:
All public roads located within the corporate limits of the Town of Centreville and within a halfmile radius of Centreville Elementary School, which is located at 213 Homewood Avenue,
Centreville, Maryland, the location and radius of which is depicted on Exhibit A attached hereto.

(E) Queen Anne’s County Board of Education School Zone:
All public roads located within the corporate limits of the Town of Centreville and within a halfmile radius of the Queen Anne’s County Board of Education, which is located at 202
Chesterfield Avenue, Centreville, Maryland, the location and radius of which is depicted on
Exhibit A attached hereto.

(F) The Wye River Upper School Zone:
All public roads located within the corporate limits of the Town of Centreville and within a halfmile radius of The Wye River Upper School, which is located at 316 South Commerce Street,
Centreville, Maryland, the location and radius of which is depicted on Exhibit A attached hereto.

The map above is something I roughed up showing the half mile radius from each school described. For those interested, here is the Exhibit A referenced, but it only shows the amalgamated mass of zones, not the individual radii.

And it’s those radii that are important. In and of themselves, they are not particularly objectionable. However, the ordinance also designates “All public roads located within the corporate limits of the Town of Centreville” as part of every zone.”

That’s a pretty big problem as the state law allowing the creation of school zones, which the ordinance references as the source of the town’s power to create the zones, explicitly states:

(a)    (1)   Subject to subsection (f) of this section, within a half–mile radius of any school, the State Highway Administration or a local authority:
(i)   May establish a school zone and maximum speed limits applicable in the school zone

Now compare those radii with this map showing the boundaries of the Town of Centreville.

As is clearly visible, not a single one of these radii covers the entire town. For that matter, not even all of the radii together cover the entire town.

I don’t see anyway that the Council’s decision to include all public roads in Centreville is anything but a violation of state law, making that at least two different ways that the speed camera ordinance rests on very questionable footing.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Centreville Town Council made the decision to implement with speed cameras with the best of intentions. But it seems equally clear that they were operating from the mindset of “Something has to be done and this is something so let’s do it.”

The multiple components that run counter to state law scream that this ordinance was not properly considered or researched when prepared and was just rushed through. The people of Centreville and Queen Anne’s County deserve serious deliberation on policy matters like this, not hasty, slip-shod legislation of questionable benefit.
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Op-Ed: Six Simple Principles for Budget Reform

I just received notice in the mail about the proposed budget for Queen Anne’s County and the corresponding hearings coming up soon so people can speak on them (May 21, 22, and 23).

In light of those hearings, I want to revisit the 6 principles for budget reform I laid out during the budget hearings last year.

  1. Don’t Raise Taxes

Based off of my reading of the letter sent out by the county, the Commissioners are sticking with this point for the coming year, so they certainly deserve commendation for that. However, depending on the final outcome of the special session, it is certainly possible that they may face a strong temptation to waver on their position. It’s vital that they do not, the county appears to be seeing the beginnings of a recovery and tax hikes will only set that back.

  1. Cut Spending by Cutting Programs
Unfortunately, there is simply not enough data available to see much as to how they have cut spending in last year’s budget or how it is proposed to do so in the future.
Either way, one thing is clear. It is not enough to simply do all the same things for less. If we are going to hope to get a handle on spending and more importantly, spending growth, it is necessary that the county evaluate what it does and what it actually must do, and endeavor to put an end to programs it doesn’t need to be doing.
  1. There are no Sacred Cows
We saw last year, not everyone in county government bore the burden of spending cuts equally. In particular the Board of Education got off extremely lightly, seeing a much smaller cut than other departments did.As has been demonstrated by others, the correlation between increased spending and better educational outcomes is tenuous at best. Further more, Superintendent Carol Williams was able to manage the budget cut without letting anyone go; maybe I’m alone, but I’m highly skeptical that the Queen Anne’s County Board of Education is so efficiently run that there isn’t a single person whose loss wouldn’t decrease inefficiency.
This time around any cuts made need to be made equally, at least so far as the state will allow.
  1. Seek Alternate Sources of Revenue
I said it last year and I’ll say it again this year. Cuts aren’t enough. The county must pursue bold, outside-the-box approaches to generating non-tax revenue. From the modest, like relaxing ordinances limiting billboards and charging fees for new ones, to the extreme, like leasing naming rights to our county schools, every opportunity must be explored.
  1. Cap Future Spending Growth
We all know how we got into the mess we face now. For years county government has spent and spent and not worried a whit about whether it was fiscally wise to do so. Queen Anne’s County can’t afford to let that happen again.Our current commissioners seem admirably committed to fiscal restraint, but there’s no guarantee future boards will share that commitment. Therefore they need to pass a cap on future spending increases, limiting any increase to the rate of inflation plus population growth unless there is a unanimous vote to exceed that cap in a given year.
  1. Mandate Sunsets on all Tax Increases

As noted above, it doesn’t look like the Commissioners will raise tax rates this year. That’s good, but it’s not good enough. Given the strong outcry against last year’s tax increases by the people of the county, the commissioners ought to amend the bill passing them to ensure that the rates will revert to the prior levels, adjusted for constant yield (assumed from what the revenue would have been had rates never been increased).

Looking beyond that, they ought to amend the county code to make it a requirement that any future tax increase must come with language such that after two years rates will revert to the current levels, adjusted as just described for constant yield.

If implemented, these 6 simple principles could transform Queen Anne’s County government, allowing us to finally get a handle on runaway spending while ensuring we never face the financial ruin our county found itself on the edge of last year and haven’t moved far enough away from yet.

Op-Ed: The Things That Really Matter by Kevin Waterman

My son Liam turned 1 last week. It’s probably cliché to say, but it does put things in perspective.

Obviously it makes me feel kind of old, even though I’m only 24. And it makes a lot of my other accomplishments feel a lot less important in comparison.

But what I want to focus on (unsurprisingly?) is how it related to my thoughts on politics, specifically how I prioritize issues.

If you look at my personal blog history you probably can see an evolution in my thought and what issues I focused on most.

For example I used to focus a lot on somewhat abstract philosophic issues and things like tax policy and have since shifted to immigration, along with the drug war and land use policy.

Thinking about Liam’s birthday has helped clarify in my mind why I’ve come to care about the issues I do.

While my concern in politics was, and remains to be, the defense and promotion of individual liberty, there’s a lot of room for varied priorities under that umbrella. What has come to concern me the most is what I think of as “experienced liberty and tyranny.”

What do I mean by this? Let’s go back to the evolution in thought over the course of this blog.

Taxes matter, I certainly won’t dispute that. However, given the current political realities, changes in our tax code will have minimal impact on the lived experiences of almost everyone.

On the other hand, things like our current immigration policy or the War on Drugs have a massive impact on people’s lives, one that is far more visceral and destructive than the tax code.

Marginal tax rate brackets creep up a few percentage points? That’s a negative change and one I’d just as soon Liam could avoid. But the War on Drugs? Statistically speaking it’s a pretty good bet he might end up trying marijuana some day and that choice could land him in jail, unalterably changing his life for the worse.

Given that kind of disparity, I think it is far more important to focus on working to change those areas where government is actively destroying people’s lives, or at least significantly harming or limiting their well-being.

As a young man still in college or just out of it, it’s easy and fun to spend time worrying about abstract questions of philosophy (actually it still is and I do think it’s important to engage in the exercise).

As a Republican, particularly one who holds office within the Party, it’s easy to go along and be vocal about the mainstream issues like taxes and spending.

But it’s not enough to do what’s easy and being a father has made that clearer than ever to me.

I want to work to make a world I can feel better about Liam and others his age growing up in. And that means focusing on the issues that are doing the most to limit individual liberty and harm people’s well-being, things like restrictive immigration policy, the War on Drugs, prohibitions on same-sex marriage, pointless military adventurism, and occupational licensing that helps incumbent businesses & stifles competition.

These aren’t sexy or high status issues and I don’t begrudge anyone their priorities. But I hope others will come to see things the way I have come to; positive changes in these fields can yield immediate and significant improvement in the lives of many and make the world a noticeably better place for those who will follow after us.

Op-Ed: The Case Against English-Only Mandates

It was recently reported by the Spy network that Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Dave Olds has introduced an ordinance making English the official language of the county.

After reviewing the legislation and speaking to several of the county commissioners, I can only come to one conclusion – – it’s a poorly thought out piece of legislation and will only have ill effects.

As a rule, I am generally opposed to English-only mandates. They reek of cultural resentment, by their very nature are intrusive nanny statism at work, and they’re aimed at stopping a largely imaginary threat. They are an utter rejection of all that the Republican Party, and America itself, are meant to stand for.

In a limited government society, language is simply not a concern of government. Just as we reject a government that picks winners and losers when it comes to cars or energy, it’s equally important that we not have a government that picks winners or losers in the marketplace of ideas.

A free society demands that the individuals that comprise it be free to choose – and part of that choice is language. That’s why we didn’t set a national language in the Constitution and why we as a nation have resisted calls to do so since then.

However, even if English-Only mandates weren’t an assault on individual liberty, they still would be ultimately unnecessary given basic economic realities.

English is the language of trade and finance. It is the language of some of the world’s most popular films, books, and music. It is even the language of diplomacy, given its status as one of the few official languages used at the UN.

That is why English is the global common tongue. Within the developed world it is either the first language or a near universally known second language, and even in less advanced countries there are still many people who speak English.

There is simply no plausible threat to the market imposed global dominance of English.

Which brings us to the ordinance in question. As I stated, I’ve read through the proposed bill and spoken with several of the commissioners. In both my analysis of the bill and theirs, the conclusion is the same;– seemingly nothing is changed by this ordinance.

The scope of the bill is limited to Queen Anne’s County government, so businesses are not impacted by the mandate, and there are so many exemptions and they are so broad, that effectively all functions of county government are also unaffected by the law.

That means there is no meaningful fiscal savings to the county from passing the bill. Indeed, there can only be one plausible purpose to its passage – to send a message.

Sadly, that is an ugly message, not one in keeping with the values that I always thought we in this county pride ourselves on.

It’ is a message that reinforces the message sent all too often over the past few years – “Queen Anne’s County is closed for business,” with the key addition that now “foreigners need not apply.”

Commissioners, please stand up for individual liberty and common sense by voting against this ordinance. It is a bad bill, responding to a non-existent threat, that sends the wrong message about our county.

Op-Ed: If You Care About Civil Liberties, Why Would You Vote for Democrats?

One of the great general truisms of contemporary American politics is that Democrats are the party of freedom on social issues and Republicans are the party of freedom on economic issues.

And like most truisms, that one is actually a load of nonsense.

Republicans passed Medicare Part D, many joined in voting for bailouts, and almost universally are opposed to pro-market immigration reforms. However, most people acknowledge the ways the GOP has worked to advance non-free-market measures.

What I’m interested in looking at here is how badly the Democrats have betrayed their supposed commitment to civil liberties.

It’s certainly true here at the state level.

Just a few weeks ago Gov. O’Malley announced he would veto any bill the General Assembly passed legalizing medical marijuana.

Looking at gay marriage, another signature civil liberties issue at the moment, Gov. O’Malley did give it his support this time around – but he was conspicuously silent about it last year when it didn’t aid in his presidential ambitions.

And during his time as mayor of Baltimore O’Malley was the architect of policies that lead to thousands of people being arrested without probable cause.

And it isn’t like Gov. O’Malley is a fringe figure within the Democratic Party – he is considered to be one of the frontrunners for his Party’s presidential nomination in 2016. If he’s the type of person they’re turning to as a leader, what does that say about the Party as a whole?

Looking from a potential presidential candidate to our current one, the story gets no better.

Pres. Obama flagrantly broke his promise to leave alone medical marijuana clinics that obey state law.

He went back on his promise to close Guantanamo and end the practice of using military tribunals instead of civil trials for terror suspects.

Going further than Pres. Bush ever did, Pres. Obama asserted the right to not only order the assassination of U.S. citizens, but to do so without trial and without having to reveal who is targeted and why.

Continuing with that trend, Pres. Obama has also more than outdone Pres. Bush in terms of deportations, well on track to deporting more people out of the U.S. in a few years than Pres. Bush did over two full terms.

It even appears that the U.S., under Obama’s administration, is pressuring Central American leaders to not attend a discussion on drug legalization they had previously supported.

It seems pretty clear to me that this isn’t an issue of one or two men betraying their Party’s values. There has been almost zero pushback against Obama from the Democrats when it comes to civil liberties while O’Malley’s readiness to set them aside hasn’t done anything to hamper his presidential aspirations.

The only conclusion to be drawn from that is that civil liberties are, at best, a back-burner issue for Democratic politicians and voters, if not actually something they care about at all (so long as they hold the reins of power).

So please, if you are a voter who cares about civil liberties and you have historically voted Democrat, please don’t continue to enable a Party that doesn’t care about the issues you value.

I’m not saying vote Republican, I won’t pretend they’re any better. But don’t limit yourselves to the two major parties.

Make a protest vote for someone like the Green Party or the Libertarian Party, whose likely nominee, Gov. Gary Johnson, was rated higher than Pres. Obama by the ACLU. Or just don’t vote at all (but make sure to tell the Democratic Party and others that you aren’t and why).

Whatever you do, make sure that the Democrats know the civil liberties vote isn’t to be taken for granted.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I am the former Maryland State Director of Gov. Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign. I am also a member of the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee. From the point at which Gov. Johnson left the Republican presidential primary I have endorsed no presidential primary candidate.)
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If You Care About Civil Liberties, Why Would You Vote for Democrats?

One of the great general truisms of contemporary American politics is that Democrats are the party of freedom on social issues and Republicans are the party of freedom on economic issues.

And like most truisms, that one is actually a load of nonsense.

Republicans passed Medicare Part D, many joined in voting for bailouts, and almost universally are opposed to pro-market immigration reforms. However, most people acknowledge the ways the GOP has worked to advance non-free-market measures.

What I’m interested in looking at here is how badly the Democrats have betrayed their supposed commitment to civil liberties.

It’s certainly true here at the state level.

Just a few weeks ago Gov. O’Malley announced he would veto any bill the General Assembly passed legalizing medical marijuana.

Looking at gay marriage, another signature civil liberties issue at the moment, Gov. O’Malley did give it his support this time around – but he was conspicuously silent about it last year when it didn’t aid in his presidential ambitions.

And during his time as mayor of Baltimore O’Malley was the architect of policies that lead to thousands of people being arrested without probable cause.

And it isn’t like Gov. O’Malley is a fringe figure within the Democratic Party – he is considered to be one of the frontrunners for his Party’s presidential nomination in 2016. If he’s the type of person they’re turning to as a leader, what does that say about the Party as a whole?

Looking from a potential presidential candidate to our current one, the story gets no better.

Pres. Obama flagrantly broke his promise to leave alone medical marijuana clinics that obey state law.

He went back on his promise to close Guantanamo and end the practice of using military tribunals instead of civil trials for terror suspects.

Going further than Pres. Bush ever did, Pres. Obama asserted the right to not only order the assassination of U.S. citizens, but to do so without trial and without having to reveal who is targeted and why.

Continuing with that trend, Pres. Obama has also more than outdone Pres. Bush in terms of deportations, well on track to deporting more people out of the U.S. in a few years than Pres. Bush did over two full terms.

It even appears that the U.S., under Obama’s administration, is pressuring Central American leaders to not attend a discussion on drug legalization they had previously supported.

It seems pretty clear to me that this isn’t an issue of one or two men betraying their Party’s values. There has been almost zero pushback against Obama from the Democrats when it comes to civil liberties while O’Malley’s readiness to set them aside hasn’t done anything to hamper his presidential aspirations.

The only conclusion to be drawn from that is that civil liberties are, at best, a back-burner issue for Democratic politicians and voters, if not actually something they care about at all (so long as they hold the reins of power).

So please, if you are a voter who cares about civil liberties and you have historically voted Democrat, please don’t continue to enable a Party that doesn’t care about the issues you value.

I’m not saying vote Republican, I won’t pretend they’re any better. But don’t limit yourselves to the two major parties.

Make a protest vote for someone like the Green Party or the Libertarian Party, whose likely nominee, Gov. Gary Johnson, was rated higher than Pres. Obama by the ACLU. Or just don’t vote at all (but make sure to tell the Democratic Party and others that you aren’t and why).

Whatever you do, make sure that the Democrats know the civil liberties vote isn’t to be taken for granted.

 

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I am the former Maryland State Director of Gov. Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign. I am also a member of the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee. From the point at which Gov. Johnson left the Republican presidential primary I have endorsed no presidential primary candidate.)
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Op-Ed: Don’t Forget About the Petty Tyrannies

The way political discussion is so largely driven, perhaps even dominated, by the 24 hour news cycle, it isn’t terribly surprising that almost all attention gets fixated on big issues like the debt ceiling, the healthcare bill, or whichever other political drama is in focus any given week.

That’s a shame, because while those issues matter, in the big picture it is what I tend to think of as the petty tyrannies of government that have the real impact on people’s lives.

What exactly do I mean by petty tyrannies?

They manifest in a myriad of forms but here’s a few that come to mind right off the bat:

  • Speech codes at public colleges and universities that deny both students and faculty their free speech rights
  • Eminent domain abuse where local governments appropriate land from its owners and give it to politically connected beneficiaries
  • Occupational licensing restrictions that ensure it is costly and time consuming for anyone new to enter in to an industry
  • Asset forfeiture laws where police can seize private property on suspicion of involvement in drug deals and the owner must prove innocence to regain what is rightfully theirs

The reason I want to highlight these petty tyrannies, besides the fact that they don’t get enough attention, is to commend one of the groups that is constantly out working to prevent everyday, normal people from them.

That group is the Institute for Justice.

A libertarian-oriented legal firm, IJ focuses on finding individuals who are being victimized by government engaging in precisely the sort of abuses I highlighted above and representing them, both to get government to stop their attacks on them and to ensure that everyone is safe from such actions.

I’m particularly a fan of their work pushing back against occupational licensing rules, like those requiring government approval to be an interior designer or eyebrow threader, or even outright prohibiting innovative entrepreneurs like food truck vendors.

That’s why I wanted to share news about one of IJ’s newest cases, where they are helping several small, independent tax preparers sue the IRS.

The arguments for IJ’s position in the case seems very clear cut, so I’ll be interested to see how this ends up playing out in court.

First of all, Congress never gave the IRS the power to regulate tax preparers or issue licenses for them.

Second, the regulations were heavily supported by licensed CPAs, who carved out an exemption to the requirement and large tax preparation firms like H&R block, which can easily afford to absorb the costs associated with the licensing.

Third, as Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason, has pointed out, this move will likely do nothing to decrease errors in tax returns:

But–and this is the important thing–forcing this guy to spend a thousand bucks on continuing education and more on fees isn’t likely to mean more accurate returns overall. For one thing, a bunch of his clients will probably go back to doing their taxes themselves rather than pay increased rates. For another, there’s a longsad, history, of bad advice being given out by the IRS itself, something its just as likely to do in those $50/hour seminars as it does on its free advice line. And for an unfair anecdotal third thing, H&R Block once filed all of my freelance journalism income as farm income.

While I don’t think I can stress enough how exciting it is that someone is challenging the IRS on such a transparently poor policy and how important the work is that IJ is doing on this and countless other cases, there is one final point I want to make.

Those petty tyrannies are or more properly speaking, the fight against them what libertarianism is really about, at least in my mind.

Sure the big issues, like the insurance mandate and tax rates, they matter. But it’s the petty tyrannies where government truly interferes in people’s lives in a meaningful, noticeable way. And I think it says something that it’s the libertarians, either individually like Radley Balko, or through groups like IJFIRE, and the ACLU that are at the front of fighting them – and winning.

What to Make of the Mortgage Interest Deduction

I had meant to write this post last week, but a close family friend passed away and I wasn’t able to get too it with everything else going on, my apologies.

In passing I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m a Realtor. As such, I was in Annapolis at the end of last month, to join with fellow Realtors and other activists to rally (in the cold and pouring rain) in support of the Mortgage Interest Deduction (MID) that Gov. O’Malley’s budget proposes to reduce for people earning more than $100,000 per year.

While I don’t disagree with many of the people there that removing the deduction, or even curtailing it for the people most likely to use it, will likely have a deleterious effect on the housing market, that wasn’t why I was there.

In fact, and this probably won’t make me popular with my colleagues in the industry, but as a matter of general policy, I support getting rid of the MID entirely. It distorts the housing market, encourages people to take on as much debt as possible, and by acting as an effective tax on renting has a potentially regressive impact.

However, while I support getting rid of the MID, I also am opposed to using that repeal as a way to increase government revenues.

To begin with, as a means of raising revenue, it’s dishonest and lacking in integrity. Raising revenue by removing deductions, without reducing rates, is nothing but a backdoor way to raise taxes. If the governor feels that the people of Maryland need to pay higher taxes, than he ought to come out and say it outright and propose a real tax increase that everyone knows is a tax increase.

Second, not only does the proposed change in the deduction allow the governor to raise taxes without having to say he’s raising taxes, it also enables him to irresponsibly avoid making tough decisions that need to be made about the state budget and where cuts have to be made – and as has been noted by investigative journalist Mark Newgent, the governor hasn’t done anything towards making spending cuts, even though he claims otherwise.

Finally, by merely restricting access to the deduction and how much can be written off, instead of getting rid of the deduction outright, the governor only adds complexity to the tax code without doing anything to address the market distorting effects of the MID.

I’d say that it’s pretty clear there’s nothing good about this change to the MID. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It actually wouldn’t be that hard to get rid of the MID and to do it in a progressive way. Here’s my proposal:

  1. Phase out the MID completely over 5 years or thereabouts.
  2. Use the extra revenue and apply it towards reducing tax rates.
  3. Make the taxes targeted for rate reductions be ones that are notoriously regressive, e.g. the sales tax or vice taxes.

That achieves a number of positive ends; it gets rid of a significant distortion of the housing market, reduces encouragement to take on debt, lowers the tax burden on poorer members of the society, and makes the tax code simpler.

In contrast, the governor’s proposed alteration of the MID is a lose-lose for everyone except the governor; it raises taxes on many households, increases the costs of tax compliance by adding complexity to the code, continues the government meddling in the housing market, and perpetuates the government bias against renters but let the governor prop up his unsustainable budget growth while avoiding hard things like making real spending cuts, being honest with the taxpayers about proposed tax increases, or seriously tackling tough policy issues.
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