November’s Mail Ballot Election – Is Voter Fraud the Motivation?

Voting has always been considered a cornerstone of our democratic processes. It is how we keep our government officials in line, hiring or firing them as we see fit.

As voters, we must always look closely at government officials who endeavor to change the process by which we hire and fire them.

Democratic Tucson City Councilman Richard Fimbres brought up the idea of making November’s city election a vote-by-mail affair at a City Council meeting in March. The public hearing was held at the council meeting on April 5, and the council voted 5-2 to make November’s election vote by mail.

The city charter does allow for the designation of any election to be a “mail ballot election.” However, the questions that immediately come to mind are, “Why?” and, “Why now?”

Councilmembers Fimbres and Regina Romero spoke of saving money and increasing voter participation as compelling reasons for mail ballots, and they point out a national trend toward mail ballots; Oregon has been using mail-only balloting since voters approved a citizens’ initiative in 1998. I don’t argue that there is a trend; I am happy to stipulate that the rise of mail ballots is a national problem. Regarding voter participation and supposed cost savings, they are more wishful thinking than fact.

Research performed in California, and sponsored by the Pew Center on the States, shows that the introduction of mail-ballot-only systems actually reduces participation by 13.2 percent overall, while reducing participation of urban, Asian and Hispanic voters 50, 30.3 and 27.3 percent, respectively. It also shows a 5.99 percent participation advantage for Democrats over Republicans.

Research done at the University of Oregon contradicts these findings, but the data were derived from survey responses, not by tracking individual voters through four cycles, as the California study did.

Anyway, I am not the only one who believes that the act of voting should not be equivalent to the act of paying your sewer bill. Voting is something for which you should take time. It is serious. Right now, “early” or “absentee” ballots may be requested from the city clerk by people who may not be able to go to polling places. The change to all-mail ballots seems to make a difference only for those who are not serious about elections.

This is better?

There are some good arguments for cost savings, though much of what is saved on poll workers is spent on additional printing and postage. Though this November’s election will be a mail-ballot vote in Tucson, by law, the city must still provide at least one polling place per ward, and the city will also provide drop-off facilities for those who prefer hand-delivery to mailing the ballot. The duty of ensuring accurate elections is probably not the first place to turn for cutting fiscal corners.

So, what’s the real story? If the Democrats believe in mail ballots, why don’t they go for a charter change instead of this one-time deal? Well? Republican Steve Kozachik, with a second from Democrat Paul Cunningham, made a motion to put the idea on the November ballot so the people could decide whether or not to change the way we hire officials. It was voted down by the rest of the officials.

The answers to, “Why” and, “Why now?” may be one and the same. In the last City Council election, the Democrats lost Ward 6 to Republican Kozachik, and came within a couple of hundred votes of losing Ward 3 to Republican Ben Buehler-Garcia. Those results, and current national trends, must have Democrats squirming in their chairs. Something must be done to influence the outcome of the election this go-round, and what better way to do that than with mail-in ballots? We all learned in grade school about “chain of custody” of ballots, whether they were machine ballots or paper cards, which prevent any hanky-panky. There is no chain of custody with mail ballots.

I’m not accusing Democrats of conspiring to commit voter fraud. I’m just trying to come up with a believable explanation for this one-shot mail-in deal, and the rejection of the more reasonable referendum suggestion. Any ideas?

Liberty Activists Celebrate a New Day

On July 29, some bills that passed the state Legislature and were signed by the governor became law. Included in these was SB 1070. Of course, there was a SB 1070-related protest, and counter-protest, downtown.

I like a good protest as much as anyone, but I had a celebration—of other laws going into effect—to attend elsewhere.

As I walked through Himmel Park, I ran into a friend. We chatted briefly, and I continued on my way. If my friend noticed the Glock model 21 pistol worn openly on my belt, he made no mention.

I soon came to a grove of trees near Treat Avenue, where 40 or so men and women were enjoying an all-American cookout with hamburgers and hot dogs—the works! Most were similarly armed.

I knew I had found the “Take Your Pistol for a Walk in the Park” party that I sought.

I saw the host of the party, liberty activist Ken Rineer, refilling the grills with dogs and burgers to keep up with the demand. It was in October 1996 that he met with Libertarian lawyer Ed Kahn and Tucson Police Department officers to have himself arrested. The purpose of the arrest was to create a case to challenge a recently enacted city ordinance that prohibited firearms in city parks—thus making the parks all the more attractive to robbers, rapists and the like.

Ken was recruited by Brassroots, a civil-rights organization that specializes in firearms issues, to risk heavy fines and jail time to take the city to court. The law was clearly on Ken’s side. The state of Arizona has a pre-emption statute that limits certain authority to the state government, including laws regarding firearms. Alas, courts being as they are in these modern times, Ken lost after the city appealed his initial victory, and the Arizona Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

OK, I know that many of you are thinking, “What the heck is it with these gun nuts? Is it so important that they have their guns in the park?” First, let me point out that many of my fellow party guests are not, in fact, “gun nuts,” or even enthusiasts. In fact, were you to ask Ken why there are as many as three different twist rates in AR-15 rifles, I doubt he could tell you.

The firearms issue lends focus to the greater issue of liberty, which is the issue we all hold in common. It is true that you could say that possessing a gun in the park is not in itself all that important, just as you could say that where you sit on the bus is not all that important—but only if you were ignorant of the greater issue at hand.

Activism goes on. When it became fashionable to post “no firearms” signs in the windows of businesses, Brassroots was there to point out that while it is certainly the right of a business to ban guns from the premises, in doing so, those businesses would lose a large block of customers. Most, realizing that customers are more important than fashion, came around pretty quickly. Phil Murphy, a past president of Brassroots, recalled addressing the issue with a specialty retailer that sold erotic paraphernalia and clothing. Exotic dancers, who shop there for clothing, were made particularly vulnerable during their late-night shopping and were ready to make noise about it. This situation was presented to the store’s manager, who contacted the home office, and within 40 hours, the signs came down.

Charles Heller—a radio personality, the secretary of Arizona Citizens Defense League (AZCDL) and an all-round good guy—spoke of the accomplishments in which the AZCDL (azcdl.org) played a crucial role. Though it was an impressive list, the most relevant to today’s celebration was the state legislation that strengthened the pre-emption statute regarding guns and knives, and legislation authorizing “constitutional carry,” meaning that you could carry your weapon discreetly or otherwise without a permission slip from the government, as the United States Constitution and Arizona Constitution guarantee.

It is not often that liberty activists have cause to celebrate, or that Ken, Phil, Charles and others actually see positive outcomes resulting from their efforts. Yet on July 29, while political theater raged downtown, men and women peacefully celebrated in the park, and remembered a 14-year-long struggle.

Arizona “Clean elections” Law Challenge Goes to the Supreme Court

One philosophy holds that the best we can do for this imperfect world is set a few rules against force and fraud, and work to make it better as individuals. In practice, the world remains imperfect, but the aggregate of individual efforts creates a collection of benefits that is inconceivable by any one individual or committee.

Another philosophy holds that the world is imperfect, but with enough force and rules, the world can be ridded of most imperfections. In practice, the world remains imperfect—and many unforeseen and unintended consequences are created, most of which are bad.

A good example of the latter philosophy is Arizona’s Clean Elections Act, passed in 1998 by referendum. Many people thought that state elections were rife with imperfections, most of which centered around financing. It was thought that by controlling the money, the influence of “special interests” would be eliminated; voter participation would be increased; the field of candidates would be made larger; and that third-party participation would increase. These were the promises of the legislation.

In practice, of course, it turned out much differently. Voter participation has not changed, nor are there more candidates. The participation of third parties has remained the same. In the words of Sarah Fenske of the Phoenix New Times, “If the system’s not getting any cleaner, and the candidates aren’t getting any better, what’s the point?”

Yet it is not the failure (the “world remains imperfect”) that should give one pause; rather, it is the “unforeseen and unintended consequences” that assault some of our basic liberties, like the right to free speech.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that political contributions are a form of speech. So what happens to that right when it collides with “Clean Elections”? Well, let’s say that you wanted to express your support of Rano Singh Sidhu in his 2006 race against Dean Martin for state treasurer. You may consider cutting him a check, but wait—he signed up for “Clean Elections” (candidate welfare), and cannot accept your support. Instead, he’s getting $121,253 from the government; that’s not a lot of speech when you’re looking at 2.5 million voters.

So, next time, you say, “I will only support a traditional candidate, not a welfare candidate.” You cut a check to your favorite traditional candidate—and he returns it, explaining that he is already at the level of the welfare candidate’s funding, and any more money he receives will be “matched” by the state and given to his opponent.

It’s actually worse. The “matching” of funds not only applies to the traditional campaign, but to independent groups who speak in favor of the traditional candidate.

My favorite example is the traditional candidate who is in a race with two welfare candidates: Every contribution over the base amount goes to both candidates. So if you send your candidate $100, a total of $200 ($100 each) goes to your candidate’s opponents.

Is this nuts or what? Fortunately, the Institute for Justice just got a break from the U.S. Supreme Court regarding their suit against the matching-funds provision (McComish v. Bennett). After a favorable decision from the U.S. District Court, it was reversed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; then the U.S. Supreme Court not only agreed to hear the case, but reinstated an injunction against any matching-funds payments. As one of the lead attorneys in the case, Bill Maurer, said, “The purpose of this law was to limit individuals’ speech by limiting their spending. But the First Amendment does not permit the government to restrain Americans from robustly exercising the right of free speech.” Amen.

It’s often said that there is too much money in electoral politics. What does that mean—too much speech? Too much information? Too much engagement? How much is too much? As George Will pointed out when referring to the 2008 presidential election, “Americans volunteering to fund the dissemination of speech about candidates for the nation’s most consequential office will contribute $1 billion, which is about half the sum they spend annually on Easter candy.”

The whole notion of controlling speech, or that too much speech is bad, offends both our Constitution and our culture. “Clean Elections” should be sent to the ash bin of history.

University of Arizona Clings to an Archaic Understanding of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Though the University of Arizona is an institution of higher learning, it appears that the students and faculty are decades behind in regards to the cultural and legal progress of the right to keep and bear arms (RKBA).

It was back in 1987 that the state of Florida took the lead in passing a new type of concealed carry law. Concealed carry permitting laws that existed prior to that time were actually remnants from the Jim Crow era; permit applications had to be approved by either the local sheriff, judge, or magistrate with no provision for appeal – good luck if you were a man or woman of color. The new permit laws were written so that anyone who met the criteria, “shall” be issued a permit. When the word “shall” is used in the law, it means it must happen, no discretion here, no denying people of color, political adversaries, mother’s-in-law, etc.

Opponents of such laws warned of never seen before running gun battles up and down the streets, they never happened. The idea caught on, and Arizona passed a similar bill in 1994. Opponents of the law warned of never seen before running gun battles up and down the streets, you know the rest. The phenomenon swept the country, and now 45 of the 50 states have “shall issue” laws of some type.

Intrigued by this wave of new laws, research scientist John Lott (University of Maryland, College Park, University of Chicago, Yale University, and the Wharton School studied crime statistics from vitually all the counties in the United States. He published the results of this work in the book More Guns, Less Crime. According to Lott, enactment of such laws leads to a significant reduction in violent crime, with a slight increase in property crime. Oddly, Lott’s research received no serious challenged by opponents; rather, they generally chose to attack him personally. Ad hominem attacks are like shooting heroine, it feels really good when you’re doing it, but regular use makes you dull, frustrated, and hollow.

The next milestone was the 2008 United States Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v Heller. The court ruled that outright bans on firearms are unconstitutional because the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution is an individual right. The case was followed by a wave of challenges to onerous restrictions on gun ownership.

It is interesting to note that the Obama administration, and the Democrat controlled congress, have made no attempt – to my knowledge, not even a mention – of any “gun control” initiatives or goals. Actions not taken are as telling as those that are.

So, both the people, and current legal thought, have evoled into a much more liberal (in the classic sense) view of the right ot keep and bear arms. Consistent with this new enlightenment, the Arizona Senate introduced SB 1011. According to the fact sheet, the bill, “Allows a faculty member with a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon (CCW permit) to possess a concealed firearm on university or college grounds.” This seems like a rather mild adjustment in these enlightened times, particularly in light of the fact that the universities would still have a more oppressive environment that the state as a whole.

Alas, the University of Arizona is a couple of decades behind the progressive (in the literal sense) thought of today. It became a hot topic with the Associated Students of the University of Arizona (ASUA). At a regular meeting, one day after the bill’s introduction, members showed up ready to pass a resolution against the bill. The Arizona Daily Wildcat reported Senator Daniel Wallace saying, “The overwhelming majority of students I’ve talked to are against having guns on campus,” and, “The faculty shares that opinion.”

Really? From where did this archaic mindset come? I think that there is a clue in Wallace’s statement, “The faculty shares that opinion.” Could it be that, for many faculty members, time stopped somewhere back in the late 60’s or 70’s when they entered academia as a career? Are students learning to pay attention, apply thought and reason, or are they being indoctrinated in politically correct thought that has been long abandoned by everyone from the courts, to the politicians, to the people?

We are well into the 21st century. For the benefit of the students, I hope the universities will decide to join us.

Tucson Celebrates Bill of Rights Day

As I am sure you all know, December 15 was Bill of Rights Day. In Tucson, it was celebrated in a manner reminiscent of colonial times.

The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The amendments were ratified on December 15, 1791, which would make December 15, 2009 the 218th anniversary of that ratification. The Bill of Rights was critical to the adoption of the United States Constitution itself. A number of states refused to vote for adoption of the constitution because it did not specifically guarantee the rights of individuals. There were others who did not want any enumeration of rights for fear of the list being misinterpreted to mean that rights were limited to those enumerated therein. A deal was struck, and the the United States Constitution was adopted with the condition that the amendments would be adopted. The constitution was adopted, and shortly thereafter, the Bill of Rights was adopted. It has been said that that was the last time a group of politicians kept it’s promise.

I attended an event honoring Bill of Rights Day on Fourth Avenue. It was styled after colonial Committees of Correspondence. These committees were formed by citizens to deal with problems as they arose, or by local governments or institutions to provide news reports for other governments or citizens outside the area. Some committees were ongoing, some were disbanded after the problems for which they were created were resolved. Our committee was not organized (those with libertarian streaks do not organize well); rather, it was an informal meeting of local citizens for the purpose of discussing the first ten amendments and how the current governments might be influenced to abide by the its principles.

Charles Heller, host of the “Swap Shop” and “Liberty Watch” radio shows heard on KVOI 1030 AM, and all around good guy, arranged the event and acted as the moderator. The food was catered by Fourth Avenue Delectables; it was fantastic. Folks volunteered to take turns reading the amendments, including the preamble. After each was read aloud, it was discussed.

At one point, Charles asked Ken Rineer to read the second amendment of the constitution. Ken recited from memory, “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the state shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize maintain or employ an armed body of men.” There was much smiling, and some chuckling, as the folks in the room recognized his recitation as not the second amendment of the United States constitution, but rather the equivalent in the State of Arizona constitution (Article II, Section 26) – as you can see, a much stronger statement than the federal version. Most states have there own version of a statement of rights in the their respective constitutions similar to the federal Bill of Rights.

The discussion touched on a broad range of topics from the affect of the fourteenth amendment on the application of the Bill of Rights, to state nullification of federal regulation, to the affect on checks and balances of the 17th amendment.

If as I described the discussion, you pictured in your mind’s eye a bunch of suits talking shop, or perhaps a few late middle-aged pony-tailed professorial types , guess again. Were you to line us up along the sidewalk, we would look no different then the folks waiting for the bus. The folks at the event were regular people – no celebrities, no movers, no shakers. They do, however, possess a depth of knowledge of American history and law rarely seen in modern citizenry. Most are engaged in the politics of their city, county, state, and country. This is American citizenship as God and James Madison intended. If this does not make you feel just a little choked-up, I pity you.

It is said that change does not happen from the top down, only from the bottom up. I do not believe that. As I write, we are getting hammered with change from the top down. I do believe that legitimate change only happens from the bottom up. If we all had the same love of America, and sense of civic duty as our neighbors who attended the informal Committee of Correspondence, imagine how much better our governments and institutions would be.

Governor Napolitano’s Worldview

The Arizona Daily Star reports that Governor Napolitano wants any future economic “stimulus” payments to go to the state rather than the people. She said that it was a fact that government spending on “infrastructure” or “healthcare” had an immediate economic effect.

Governor, please, you must see how insulting those statements are to our intelligence. I am sure that you do not really believe that dumping money into the state coffers will have any effect on the economy – certainly not immediately. Wealth creation, jobs, better products and services, are all results of private sector activities. You know that, Governor….well, maybe you do not.

Earlier I talked about worldview. Perhaps the Governor has a worldview that differs from the rest of us. In her world, people make way too much money and spend it poorly. They move around needlessly in their cars, whenever they want, when they should be riding transit to work and home. They could be be allowed to keep enough money for food, shelter, and a bus pass (and maybe a little liquor money), and send the rest to the state where the Governor and her staff can spend it wisely, for the good of all. After all, what is the collective judgment of the proletariat compared to Gubernatorial Wisdom and Compassion? She will shower medical care, transportation, education, and public art upon you.

In our world, Lincoln freed the slaves. The owners pointed out that the slaves would just waste the money, were they allowed to keep it, and that they (the owners) knew how to spend it for the greater good of all the slaves. Still, Lincoln freed the slaves, and was a good thing… in our world, at least.

Obama’s Campaign Thugs

I am amazed, though I suppose I should not be, that the story of Missouri prosecutors and sheriffs using their positions to advance the Obama campaign has had so little coverage outside the blogosphere. This is the most significant story regarding Obama, and his campaign, to date.

Youtube video of original news broadcast – click to watch!

Who would have thought that, in our lifetime, would openly take sides in a campaign as public officials?

Imagine if Governor Napolitano was up for re-election, and the head of the Arizona National Guard said, “We, and the people of Arizona, want this campaign to be about issues. If we see anyone lying about Governor Napolitano, or engaging in personal attacks, we’ll do what we can to prevent that – whether the attacks come from the a campaign, or 527’s. We are deploying assets to Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff to make sure these lies and personal attacks do not go unanswered.”

I would hope that we would all say, “How dare you! How dare you take sides in a political campaign as members of the military! How dare you engage in intimidation of those whom your are supposed to be serving! And who the heck is the National Guard to judge the veracity of campaign commercials!”

Why are these questions not being asked of those prosecutors and sheriffs in Missouri?
According to the news report, they were recruited by the Obama campaign. What do you suppose these whores were promised – a staff position at the White House? A lawyer job at the Department of Justice? Maybe some cushy regional FEMA Director position?

The important thing, at this point, is the realization that an Obama administration will differ little from the thug machine politics of Chicago, where Obama learned the trade. Treat him like any other politician – do not listen to what he says, look at what he does.

Unity? Liberty? Prosperity? – not things we are likely to see in an Obama administration. Think about that when you vote.

Gee, do you think that these “Truth Squad” folks will adopt uniforms? If they do, will they be black like SWAT teams, or maybe just brown shirts like AmeriCorp?

Clean Away Bad Law

Let us say that you vote very election. You consider it a civic duty. During this election cycle, you have been paying more attention, and want to become more involved by helping your favorite candidate financially.

Nice idea, but don’t bother because you can’t.

“Can’t what, send him a check?” you might ask.

“No,” I would reply, “you can’t help him.”

“How does that work?” you say.

Here’s how: say you want to give a hundred bucks to your guy in your local legislative district. Well, if he has met the arbitrary limit set by the state, the state will give a hundred bucks to each of the competing candidates, thereby neutralizing your help… you know, to make it fair.

“But my guy is not participating in Clean Elections!” you add.

“Yeah, that’s why he can raise the extra money, but his participating opponents get the match. Like it or not, everyone participates, though not everyone signs up,” I explain with a sigh.

At this point you shake your fist and scream, “What the heck is fair about denying me the ability to help my candidate!?!”

Welcome to the whacky world of “Arizona Clean Elections.” That’s right, the act that was designed to increase political participation, increase the number of candidates, and reduce the incumbent re-election rate, actually does none of those things. In fact, it often makes matters worse.

It is an atrociously bad law. Not only does it fail to fulfill the promises of its creators, it also removes an important tool with which the people influence their elected representatives.

There are three ways with which we, the people, do that – voting, campaign financing, and petitioning (letters, phone calls, etc.). The vote is clearly the most powerful. With it, we can “throw the bums out.” Campaign financing is next, it relates to the vote so it is right up there in significance. Once the critter is in there, we can communicate praise or displeasure, the old carrot and stick, which might spook him during and election year.

Arizona Clean Elections removes direct constituent influence over campaign financing. That means that the candidate gets the money, the “mother’s milk of politics”, not by pleasing his constituents, but by pleasing the some state employed bureaucrat.

Look, I know that at this point, you figure the political game is rigged, and you want to forget about it and go back to playing Halo or Grand Theft Auto, but don’t. There is hope.

Clint Bollick, up there at the Goldwater Institute, has filed suit on behalf of an angry mob of candidates who are getting hosed by this thing. He’s arguing that preventing people from supporting their candidates interferes with their free speech rights.

Now here’s the best part: there is United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) case law that supports the claim! The case is Davis vs. F.E.C., you can look it up. It should be a slam-dunk for Clint.

“But why,” you ask, “if it doesn’t work and creates problems, don’t they just repeal the bad law?”

My friend, you have much to learn about politics. Remember, things are not always as they appear. Perhaps it never was about increased participation, more candidates, and all that crap. Maybe it has always been about control, about shifting power from the people to the state.

If that is the case, then it appears to be working just fine.

The Bizarre Case of San Tan Flat

Let me start by saying that San Tan Flat is in no way connected with Tortilla Flat. There are no tee shirts that say, “Where the Hell is San Tan Flat?” Although new to Arizona, San Tan Flat has enjoyed a level of publicity unknown to Tortilla Flat.

Our story begins with a father and son, Dale and Spencer Bell. Dale has operated successful restaurants in both South Dakota and Wyoming. He and his son, Spencer, opened their new venture in Pinal County, Arizona, on the flats next to the San Tan Mountains – hence the name.

After three years of jumping through hoops, they finally opened on 2005 with Pinal County’s blessing. Shortly thereafter, Pinal County began to harass them mercilessly. They made them remove one of their two signs, reduced their road access from four entrances to one, and they made them build a bigger parking lot. They also sent deputies out at night to measure decibel levels.

This sort of behavior usually indicates that some well-connected turgid member of the community wants him out of Dodge. In the older frontier times, they usually just sent the Sheriff around to tell him, “Be out of town by sundown.” These are less direct, less honest, weenie times.

Dale complied with all the harassing demands, until they turned their sights on his customers. They claimed it was illegal for them to dance to the music in the courtyard. They cited an ordinance from 1962 that required “dance halls, penny arcades, and bowling alleys” to be in fully enclosed structures. San Tan Flat is a restaurant bar. As Dale said to me, “I’ve never seen a penny arcade in my lifetime, I’ve never been able to put a penny in a machine and have it do anything, I don’t know how old you are, but I’m an old guy…this thing is pretty obsolete even in its language.” With the help of the Arizona chapter of the Institute for Justice, Dale went to court.

The Pinal County attorneys stated, at four separate times during the initial hearing, that the supervisors thought the outdoor stage at the Country Western Saloon and Steakhouse would be used for “mimes, puppet shows, poetry readings, and art displays.” Why, of course! Any cowboy worth his salt needs a little miming, and poetry read to him every now and again. Those dang Bell Boys deceived us!

Dale has determined that upstanding member of the community Pinal County Supervisor Sandy Smith is directing the attacks against him. It is her appointee, the Pinal County Sheriff, who sends his deputies out three times a night to test the decibel levels. So far, they have had no luck.

I asked Dale why Sandy Smith was trying to make his life miserable. He answered, “Why is she doing it? Possibly petty jealousy over the success of the business, possibly because we did not grovel, or kiss her butt, which is apparently what she was expecting us to do after we were open and permitted.” He had some other ideas that involved millionaire developers, but it’s all just speculation.

The silver lining to this dark cloud is that the longer it drags on, the more support the Bells get – from George Will, who wrote of their plight in his Washington Post column, to Dale and Spencer’s customers. Dale said of his customers, “They don’t say they like it, they say they love it!”

The significance of this case lies not so much in the fact that the petty commissars of Pinal County are being exposed; rather it verifies what we in the freedom movement have come to realize over the past few years.

Traditionally, it was government at the federal level that sent edicts from far away for the great unwashed, doing away with federalism, and exceeding its limited jurisdiction in a rather tyrannical way. It seemed to make sense that when people are reduced to numbers and formulas, they would be treated like them. Now we see those close to us, here at home, behaving in similar fashion. Whether they use eminent domain, civil forfeiture, or “Smart Growth” central planning, our locals have a lust to control people, and property that they do not own.

As the bizarre case of San Tan Flat exemplifies, it is not the remoteness of the power that is corrupting. It is the power itself.

Pinal County officials are abusing their power by harassing a popular bar/restaurant

This was originally published in the Tucson Weekly

Our story begins with a father and son, Dale and Spencer Bell. Dale has operated successful restaurants in both South Dakota and Wyoming. He and his son, Spencer, opened a new venture in Pinal County, on the flats next to the San Tan Mountains. Hence the restaurant’s name: San Tan Flat.After three years of jumping through hoops, they finally opened in 2005 with Pinal County’s blessing. Shortly thereafter, Pinal County began to harass them mercilessly. County officials made them remove one of their two signs, reduced their road access from four entrances to one, and forced them to build a bigger parking lot. They also sent deputies out at night to measure decibel levels.

This sort of behavior usually indicates that some well-connected, turgid member of the community wants someone out of Dodge. In the older frontier times, they usually just sent the sheriff around to tell him, “Be out of town by sundown.” These are less direct, less honest, weenie times.

Dale complied with all of the harassing demands, until the county turned its sights on his customers: Officials claimed it was illegal for them to dance to the music in the courtyard. They cited an ordinance from 1962 that required “dance halls, penny arcades and bowling alleys” to be in fully enclosed structures.

San Tan Flat is a restaurant and bar. As Dale said to me, “I’ve never seen a penny arcade in my lifetime. I’ve never been able to put a penny in a machine and have it do anything, I don’t know how old you are, but I’m an old guy. … This thing is pretty obsolete, even in its language.”

With the help of the Arizona chapter of the Institute for Justice, Dale went to court.

The Pinal County attorneys stated, at four separate times during the initial hearing, that the supervisors thought the outdoor stage at the country/Western saloon and steakhouse would be used for “mimes, puppet shows, poetry readings and art displays.” Why, of course! Any cowboy worth his salt needs a little miming, and some poetry read to him every now and again. Those dang Bell boys deceived us!

Dale has determined that an upstanding member of the community, Pinal County Supervisor Sandie Smith, is directing the attacks against him. It’s a county appointee, the Pinal County sheriff, who sends his deputies out three times a night to test the decibel levels. So far, they have had no luck.

I asked Dale why Sandie Smith was trying to make his life miserable. He answered, “Why is she doing it? Possibly petty jealousy over the success of the business; possibly because we did not grovel, or kiss her butt, which is apparently what she was expecting us to do after we were open and permitted.”

He had some other ideas that involved millionaire developers, but it’s all just speculation.

The silver lining to this dark cloud is that the longer the episode drags on, the more support the Bells get–from people like George Will, who wrote of their plight in his Washington Post column, and people like Dale and Spencer’s customers. Quoting his customers, Dale told me, “They don’t say they like it; they say they love it!”

The significance of this case lies not so much in the fact that the petty commissars of Pinal County are being exposed; rather, it verifies what we in the freedom movement have come to realize over the past few years.

Traditionally, it was government at the federal level that sent edicts from far away for the great unwashed, doing away with federalism and exceeding its limited jurisdiction in a rather tyrannical way. It seemed to make sense that when people are reduced to numbers and formulas, they would be treated like them. Now we see those close to us, here at home, behaving in similar fashion. Whether they use eminent domain, civil forfeiture or “smart growth” central planning, our local officials are showing a lust to control people, and to control property that they do not own.

As the bizarre case of San Tan Flat exemplifies, it is not the remoteness of the power that is corrupting. It is the power itself.