home rule

Home Sweet Home

 Home Rule Should Mean Home Rule

While having coffee with my friend Peregrina at the Dunkin Donuts in Dryden, we began discussing “home rule.”  As many Dryden residents know, the Town has invoked “home rule” as the basis for its recent ban on hydraulic fracturing, a claim that is still under review in the courts.
 
The discussion soon turned to what is the appropriate level of government or geographical grouping to exercise “home rule.”  Why would the best level be the Town or the County?  Then we realized that town and county boundaries are fairly arbitrary, set by geographical accident or the state legislature a long time ago.  As we learned with redistricting, the grouping of people can be changed and which group people are placed in will have a lot to do with how “home rule” really works.  People tend to favor “home rule” when their party rules, sometimes not realizing that power can shift and “home rule” can become very unattractive to them when it does. Take for example people who enjoyed being represented by very liberal Maurice Hinchey who now find themselves in a district with an incumbent Republican Congressman, Tom Reed, which has a thirty thousand registration advantage for Republicans.
 
Then it occurred to us that “home rule” should best be vested in what it says, the home.  That is, the individual homeowner, each allowed “home rule” by making her or his own choice.  But, as Peregrina pointed out, with the current ban, “home rule” is moved to the entire town level, as exercised by some elected officials, so is not “home rule” at all, but rather “rule over the homes.”
 
If the principle being served with “home rule” is to bring the decisions to the lowest and best possible level, why not the homeowner level?  What is sacred about the town level?  If it is not the home, could this not be the County, the region, or even the entire state?  If the level is to be the “best level,” why isn’t it the one with the best expertise and the time and money to analyze the problem?  If individual freedom is the goal, then the individual homeowner would seem the best level.  But, the town would seem to be neither the lowest or best level.
 
Before we broke up our coffee meeting, we decided that we too favor “home rule,” but not “home rule” for government, rather “home rule” for individuals, making decisions for themselves.  That is true “home rule.”
 

Seward's Home Rule Folly

Liberty or tryranny redux...from Tom Shepstone and Rachael Colley at EID Marcellus:

Any student of American history will recall Secretary of State William Seward’s deal to purchase Alaska, lampooned at the time as “Seward’s Folly.”  That deal vastly increased our access to natural resources and turned out pretty well in the end, but now another New Yorker of the same name, State Senator James Seward of Oneonta, has embarked on precisely the opposite course.  Ironically, Senator Seward seems bent on redeeming the false accusation hurled at his famous namesake by engaging in what can only be described as the Home Rule Follies.
 
We were present in Oneonta last month when Senator Seward and three of his fellow elected officials appeared before about 150 of his constituents who were there to question them about Seward’s bill.  The Senator, widely admired in most respects, seemed surprised to find his voters not at all happy about his introduction of legislation that would allow individual communities to supersede State law.  That bill would, in the name of “home rule,” selectively override the Department of Environmental Conservation’s regulations so as to prohibit natural gas development in one community and, thereby, potentially making it impossible to do in adjoining communities given that geology knows no borders.
 
Seward took it on the chin from constituents who had actually read the U.S. Constitution and understood the job of the State under a republican form of government -- protecting rights.  Listen and watch this performance as he says “I’m not sure I’m qualified” to interpret the U.S. Constitution (2:20).  This is the same U.S. Constitution he swore an oath to uphold:

This is a great post with more video segments from Oneonta and a map—do read the whole thing.

Bottom line:

Seward is a very dedicated and well-received member of the New York State Senate among both his colleagues and his constituents.   Why is he, then, buying into this campaign?  Because he apparently thinks it won’t amount to much and he can thrown a bone to his Cooperstown friends.  What he is doing, though, is sending a message, a message that New York State is closed for business, when it should be open.  While only small parts of his district may have natural gas, his entire district will benefit from his development of it.  Trying to play ball with both sides only enables the anti-gas special interests to maintain the pretense they are winning a status quo battle against the future.

Liberty or tyranny?

I've raised that question before in previous posts.

When you hear the term "home rule" is this what comes to mind?

The reality is quite different.  From contributor Henry Kramer:  

Home Rule is Undemocratic
 
“Home Rule.”  Sound good and close to the people?  But local governments, the beneficiaries of “home rule,” do not conform to basic American constitutional principles.
 
At all levels of a representative republic, representatives are elected, represent an appropriate majority, and are equally “legitimate.” But majorities vary at different levels and a local majority may be a state minority.  Local majorities often seek “home rule” simply because they cannot prevail otherwise.
 
Local governments lack the separation of powers and checks and balances that our founders wrote into our constitution to prevent abuse of power.  Local governments enjoy both executive and legislative power.  Once a local activist majority forms, there is no separation of powers to check and balance it, no diffusion of power from a two-house legislature or executive veto.  Certainly not the minority protection provided by U.S. Senate rules, including the super majority to limit debate.
 
Without checks and balances, activists who capture local governments can create a tyrannical power, including claiming a right to override state and federal law.  Faced with activist local governments that exceed their powers, our only recourses are litigation or relocation.  Neither pulling up roots nor justice comes free. Without the resources to litigate, rights end up trampled with impunity.
 
Activist local governments often lack expertise regarding subject matter on which they legislate. Ignorance in complex and highly technical areas is no sound basis for legislation.  Traditionally, local governments concerned themselves with purely local concerns and accepted their role as sub-divisions of state government, entirely subject to state supervision.  Reasonable zoning was acceptable but local action on state, national, and international matters, and rejection of state preemption, was not acceptable.  
 
Imagine trying to control the nation’s air traffic or airwaves at local level.  The U.S. constitutes a single national market.  Although states are sometimes granted concurrent jurisdiction to act on their concerns, the Supreme Court has protected national markets from local regulation.  “Home rule” simply does not work in economic matters.
 
Local interests are, by definition, local.  We elect state and federal officials to deal with matters whose scope exceeds traditional local issues such as roads and local public safety.
 
Today, local “progressives” shun progress and try to “preserve and protect” against growth and change. Local governments with “home rule” can be very undemocratic, allowing a group possessing a mere local majority to impose extreme values, rendering minorities powerless as they are stripped of rights and freedoms.
 
Americans are mobile and our country is wide and varied.  As Americans, we must remember to keep a national perspective.  Local “home rule” can undercut state, national, and international policies. Should local governments be able to use “home rule” to undermine goals important to the country as a whole?  That way leads to patchwork quilt regulation and chaos.
 
Lord Acton wrote, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Local governments that ignore self-restraint on the limits of power are corrupt, undemocratic, and outside U.S. constitutional principles.
 
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