Monthly Archives: August 1995

Which Republican Future? Part 1: Misplaced Loyalty to Party Leaders

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We all know what message the American people sent to the federal government last November. The major news media, President Clinton and his cheering section, and others of the left are reluctant to concede it. Some even went so far as to liken the vote to a two-year-old’s temper tantrum. But even they know that the American people are becoming fed up with government that oversteps the bounds set for it in our Constitution. Americans are beginning to understand the damage already done by big government; and to fear the prospects for their children and grandchildren if present trends continue.

Because most Americans identify the Democratic Party with the kind of intrusive government that they no longer want, they naturally turned to Republicans as the antidote in November. How Republicans respond to this opportunity will not only determine the future of the party, but also influence that of the country itself.

There are several different roles that the Republican Party could play as we close out the 1900s. The party might take seriously the mandate given it by the people. If it does, Republicans could lead America into a free and prosperous twenty first century.

On the other hand, the party might merely fine-tune the socialism that afflicts our nation, without cutting the government down to a Constitutional size and reach. In that case, Republicans may preside over the final descent of America into a world-wide socialist tyranny, perhaps at a somewhat slower pace than would occur under Democratic leadership. Or the party could become irrelevant as the Democrats fight it out with some new Constitutionalist party. The pressures to continue the socialist trend are great; and the signs that the Republican congressional leaders have caved in are numerous. Rank and file Republicans need to fight this tendency every step of the way.

There are many sources of pressure pushing members of Congress to continue down the socialist path. I would boil them all down to three basics: misplaced loyalty to party leaders, fear of the “extremist” label, and fear that Americans’ dependence on government is irreversible. In Part 1, we will discuss the misplaced loyalty factor.

How does a person get to the top of a party’s congressional leadership? He does it by being, above all, an effective politician. All too often that means being adept at dealing in favors, rewarding and punishing supporters and opponents, and arranging to be on the winning side without regard to whether it is the right side. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a man of principle to become the leader of a party’s congressional delegation.

Party loyalty does have a legitimate place. But it should be based on commitment to the principles of the party, not to the people who lead the party. I like to think that the basic principle of the Republican Party is loyalty to the Constitution. Where party leaders have other loyalties, Republicans in Congress should do what is right, not what they are told to do by the leadership. If necessary, they should replace the offending leader with someone who can lead without deviating from the party’s principles.

What kinds of deviations am I talking about here? Look at the congressional leaders’ anti-terrorism bill. It authorizes the executive branch of the federal government, including even the military, to involve itself in all kinds of law enforcement that are rightfully under the jurisdiction of the states. How about their crime bill? It continues and even expands the federal takeover of law enforcement that Clinton’s crime bill took to such extremes. Their line item veto hands unprecedented power to a president whose unpopular, socialist ideas brought many of those Republicans into office.

Do you think that Newt Gingrich is committed to the Constitution? Perhaps his greatest obsession is the “Third Wave” sophistries of Alvin Toffler. Gingrich claims that it is our “failure to apply the Toffler Third Wave model” that “has kept our politics trapped in frustration, negativism, cynicism, and despair.” What does this model have to say about the Constitution? The latest Toffler book, Creating a New Civilization, says that “the Constitution of the United States needs to be reconsidered and altered,” and that “the system that served us so well for so long…now must, in its turn, die and be replaced.”

Is it any surprise that this man is leading congressional Republicans down a path that leads away from a constitutionally limited government? Loyalty to Republican leaders like this is misplaced loyalty, and is a factor in the disappointing performance of the new Republican majority.

Republicans in Congress need to elect new House and Senate leaders who take seriously their oath to support the Constitution. The voters need to hold all members of Congress responsible for that oath as well.

Recovering our Property Rights

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Property rights of Americans have been eroding for years. Many who are merely accused of crimes, but never convicted, have had property confiscated under “asset forfeiture” laws. The Treasury Department (including the IRS and BATF) has a long history of seizing bank accounts and other property without due process. By far the greatest source of property rights violations, however, has been the various federal environmental laws.

Unlike the more direct property confiscation mentioned above, regulatory agencies (EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, etc.) leave the property in the hands of its owners. Like Mussolini, they merely take away the owner’s ability to use the property as he sees fit, rather than the property itself. Since the right to use a piece of property is an inherent part of ownership, they are really taking away part of the ownership.

Among other things, the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees that “nor shall any person…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” Clearly, forcing a property owner to set aside his land as a wetland, or as habitat for plant or animal life, is taking private property for public use. So far, regulatory agencies have been able to do so without any compensation, let alone just compensation.

Congress should be looking closely at the various federal laws that infringe property rights, with a view toward repealing them as violations of the Fifth and Tenth Amendments. This does not appear to be in the cards with the current makeup of Congress. A good first step, however, would be to ensure that property owners receive just compensation when the value of their property is taken away by bureaucratic fiat. That is the purpose of the Omnibus Property Rights Act of 1995.

The bill has three basic thrusts. In order to minimize regulatory “takings” of property value, it establishes a procedure for federal agencies to follow while considering new regulations. Secondly, since current laws have created a judicial morass that makes it almost impossible for a property owner to get relief in court, the bill simplifies court jurisdiction in compensation cases. I find no fault with these provisions.

The third thrust of the bill specifies that a federal, state, or local agency whose regulations take value from property will pay compensation to the owner of the property. I see two problems with this part of the bill. First, a property owner must lose at least 33 percent of the value of his property before being eligible for compensation. A ten percent loss would be more than enough to hurt a property owner severely. For example, if he has a 90 percent mortgage on the property, a ten percent loss of value would take away all of his equity. A twenty percent loss would leave him in the middle of a property owner’s nightmare: owing more than the property is worth.

The other problem is that the compensation provision applies to state and local governments, not just to federal agencies. It is obvious that many state and local laws take private property for public use without compensation. These governments should also have to compensate property owners. My objection is with the federal government assuming the power to regulate state governments in this matter. A strong Fourteenth Amendment argument could be made for doing so, but we need a separate debate on that issue. Such a radical departure from past practice should be dealt with in a different bill. I am convinced that Americans are ready to slap down tyrannical federal regulators. We should be very careful, on the other hand, before we accept this additional federal power over the states.

The Omnibus Property Rights Act of 1995 is presently being considered in the Judiciary Committee of the US Senate. The House of Representatives has already passed a related bill. If the Senate passes its bill, a conference committee will have to reconcile the two versions, and both houses will have to vote again on the resulting bill.

Since this bill is a mixed blessing, I recommend a qualified support for it. We should urge the Senate to pass the bill after amending it to lower the required percentage of property loss for eligibility. Ten percent would be a good number. They should also remove the provisions requiring state and local governments to compensate property owners. When the bill reaches the conference committee, we should do our best to see that those changes are incorporated in the final bill.

Here in Indiana, we should urge our state legislators to examine this property rights issue. We should be capable of policing our own state government without input from the federal government. Perhaps we need something like the Property Rights Act at the state level.

Picking a Gun Ban Repeal Bill

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One of last year’s hottest topics was President Clinton’s crime bill (the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994”). A huge document, the bill was a massive assault on the Constitution. It expanded the federal role in law enforcement, which the Constitution left under control of the states. It spent billions of (borrowed) dollars on “crime prevention” measures that are not authorized by the Constitution. Worst of all, it violated the Second Amendment by banning so-called “semi-automatic assault weapons” and magazines with greater than ten round capacity.

The Second Amendment implications angered many voters and jeopardized the careers of a number of Congressmen. Some Representatives who voted for the crime bill, along with freshmen who were elected by aroused voters, have been trying to undo this mistake. Last September, 9th District Representative Lee Hamilton and others introduced a bill to repeal the assault weapons ban. In the current session of Congress, at least four bills have been introduced to bring about this repeal. Those of us who wish to preserve the Constitution should be trying to find at least one of these bills that we can support.

The best-known bill is HR 1488, the “Citizens’ Protection From Violent Crime Act of 1995.” This bill is being pushed by the NRA, which probably explains why so many usually conservative Representatives support it. There are three basic thrusts: federal penalties for possession or use of firearms while committing a state crime; protection from prosecution of anyone who uses a firearm for self-defense in his home; and repeal of the ban on semiautomatic weapons and large capacity magazines. While conservatives will applaud the latter two of these purposes, the section on federal penalties more than offsets the benefits of the other parts.

HR 1488 prescribes a penalty of five years for mere possession of a firearm during the commission of “any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime.” Penalties escalate for “brandishing” or discharging the firearm. If the crime is classified as “serious,” or is a repeat offense, the penalties are further multiplied. Thus, the five year penalty (without parole) for possession is applied when the crime is a non-serious first offense.

No mention is made of whether the firearm is legally possessed or not. I read this to mean that in Indiana, for example, a holder of a valid permit to carry a pistol would receive a five year federal sentence, without parole, for having a fist fight (“any crime of violence”) or possessing a small amount of marijuana (“any…drug trafficking crime”) while carrying his concealed pistol. Just like the “anti-terrorism” bill, HR 1488 would federalize a wide range of state crimes. Its increase of federal power at the expense of the states is just as much a violation of the Constitution as the gun ban is. It should be rejected unless the sections on federal penalties for state crimes are removed.

The other three bills are all similar to each other. HR 698 and 464 completely repeal the ban on semiautomatic weapons and large capacity (greater than ten rounds) magazines. In correspondence with Representative Lee Hamilton, he stated that HR 125, which he co-sponsored, is “identical” to these two bills. A careful examination of the bills (which is not as easy as it sounds) reveals that this is not quite the case. If my layman’s interpretation is correct, HR 125 leaves intact the crime bill’s definition of a “semi-automatic assault weapon,” and the federal penalty for use of such a weapon to commit a violent crime. It also does not repeal the ban on large capacity magazines.

It is well known among those who are familiar with guns that an “assault weapon” is defined by the military as a selective fire rifle (that is, it has a lever to switch its function between semi- and fully-automatic). Access to such weapons has been severely restricted for many years. The term “semiautomatic assault weapon” is a bit like the (hypothetical) term “long short-barreled shotgun.” In other words, it is nonsense. The crime bill’s definition embraces various semiautomatic rifles, shotguns, and even pistols, none of which would be classified as assault weapons by the Defense Department.

HR 125 leaves this definition in the federal code. It also perpetuates the silly idea that a violent crime is more serious if committed with a semiautomatic weapon. Representative Hamilton’s bill doesn’t add anything new; it just doesn’t provide the complete repeal that we need. I would judge it as far better than nothing, but would prefer HR 464 or 698.

What we really need is a bill to repeal the entire “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.” It is an unconstitutional monstrosity. Until such a repeal bill comes along, I urge you to ask your Representative to support HR 464 or HR 698 (or even HR 125, if that’s as far as he will go toward repeal), and to strongly oppose HR 1488 as it now stands.