Misti Chastain: Tales of Tyranny

Misti ChastainMisti Chastain was  a 10-year-old when she first saw her dream ranch. Twenty years later she bought that land and turned it into a dream ranch for those who need it most.

But her dream was almost thwarted when the county government tried to force senseless regulations on her property.

Chastain owns a horse ranch outside of Olympia, Washington, where she rescues horses and hosts children with special needs. Her work there has been lauded by local teachers and community leaders.

One day, she received a letter from Thurston County that threatened to close her ranch down. It listed 11 property violations, which allegedly stemmed from a neighbor’s complaint. She was charged with building a swimming pool without a permit (it was already there when she moved in) and having a well too close to her garage.

Even worse, it limited her to only have six horses on her thirty acres— a regulation that was not even in county land codes. This forced Chastain to put some of her prized horses down.

I’m getting rid of horses. I’m saying goodbye to kids. I’m closing down programs. It was devastating.

A turning point came when she saw signs around that said “Stop Thurston County from Taking Our Property.”

She called the number on the sign, which led to the Freedom Foundation’s Glen Morgan. Morgan provided the information that restored her will to fight the county officials.

She testified and invited county officials to look around her property—and she invited her friends with video cameras. The county decided that there was nothing wrong with her property, and Chastain was vindicated.

Chastain’s is not an isolated case. Many people suffer under oppressive government regulations on their property or businesses. Glen Morgan warns citizens in Chastain’s position that “your silence will not protect you.” She shined the light of day on what government was doing to her, and she changed her situation.

If you don’t stand up against government grabbing power and squashing individual opportunity when you see it happening around you, then you may just become a victim of it yourself one day.

Do you have a story to share about government’s oppressive reach into your life? Share it on our Facebook page or contact the freedom-protecting think tank in your state.

Who watches the watchman? You do!

Government regulations and laws can be bad in at least three ways. First, they can simply be bad on their face. Obamacare, for example, requires people to buy something (health insurance) simply because they are alive. Call it a tax on breathing. Second, they might have been created questionable legislative practices. A law that both set the state budget for funding of public schools and outlaws happy hours would violate a constitutional requirement that each law have only one subject. Finally, they can be carried out for the benefit of a few rather than the public, as when the mayor’s family is awarded a large no-bid contract.

“Transparency tools” can be helpful in all three circumstances, by exposing the workings of government to the public. These tools can bring about public pressure that can change bad laws or practices. I can’t guarantee that they’ll always be effective. But as “60 Minutes,” Andrew Brietbart, James O’Keefe and the progressive muckrakers of old have shown, exposing questionable practices to the light of day can bring good results.

FOIA

The basic principle of transparency is embodied in FOIA, or the “Freedom of Information Act.” According to www.FOIA.gov, “any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records.” While the Act is a federal law, many states and local government have some version of it as well.

A lot of government information is already on the web, but if what you’re looking for is not there, you can “FOIA” the appropriate agency for it. Tell the agency what you want to know, what format you’d like it in, and how much you’re willing to pay for it. (Governments are free to charge you for research time and photocopying expenses.) Note that you won’t always get what you want, as agencies may claim that national security or the privacy concerns of employees take precedence. Don’t know how to start? FOIA.gov has lots of information, including links to 100 different agencies to help you get started.

The Federal Register

While we’re being swamped with laws, we’re drowning in regulations. For example, the Obama Administration is EPA regulations to conduct what some people have called a “war on coal,” rather than seeking federal laws. The Federal Register is the place to look for existing and proposed federal regulations on coal and just about anything else. If a proposed regulation is open to public comment, you can even put in your two cents.

Sunshine Review

If you want to expose the working of state or local government, the Sunshine Review is your friend. You can find information there about how FOIA and Open Meetings laws apply to your state.

You can also get information about state budgets, including salaries of public employees, public pension obligations, and, my “favorite,” money that local and state governments take from taxpayers to lobby state and federal officials.

The Sunshine Review grades states, counties, cities, and school districts on their transparency practices. Units of government that do an outstanding job are honored with a Sunny Award. For example, the State of Illinois website gets an “A” for including budgets, audits, and recent contracts, which are a just a few of the points on a checklist the site applies.

Franklin Center

If you read a newspaper these days, you’re more likely to find stories about Hollywood celebreties, sports, or self-help articles than you are about the workings of government. Investigative reporting is a dying art, but the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity has stepped into the gap. It has professional journalists who follow state and local government, and it also trains citizen-journalists. If you look at nothing else on this site, visit the state resources page.

The Franklin Center operates Watchdog.org, which is a platform of journalists to publish their news about political developments in the various states. The center also operates some state-specific watchdog sites, such as Cal Watchdog and Texas Watchdog.

If the United States is to be a self-governing republic rather than a government-knows-best country, citizens must keep watch over public officials. These tools can help in that task. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

John R. LaPlante as a senior fellow of the Free Market at the Center of the American Experiment and a contributor to TheMichiganView.com.

Small Businesses Suffer Under Big Regulations

Imagine trying to run a business where every time you turn around, the rules change. -Dr. Matthew Spalding in We the People: Rule of Law and Liberty

Small businesses employ 50% of the US workforce.  Contrary to popular opinion, these are not “inferior jobs”.  In fact, 21% of small business jobs are part-time, close to the 18% share for large firms.  What’s important about small businesses is that they are constantly turning over.  In a process similar to “creative destruction”, small businesses try out new business models.  Those that succeeds grow to become tomorrow’s big firms while those that don’t fall into oblivion.  In the long term, though, the successes outweigh the losses, especially in terms of jobs.

Over the past 15 years, small businesses have accounted for about 65 percent of the private-sector net job creation. – Brian Headd, Office of Advocacy, Small Business Administration (SBA)

In spite of small businesses’ benefit to the entire economy, they are disproportionately harmed by federal regulations.  According to a SBA report, for firms with fewer than 20 employees, the per employee cost of all major federal regulations was $10,585 per year.  For large firms (greater than 500 employees), the cost was $7,454 per employee per year.  This is because many of the costs associated with complying with federal regulations are considered “fixed costs”.  This means that large firms have the ability to spread out their costs over a larger employee and revenue base.  Small businesses, the engines for innovation, are stuck with a proportionally higher burden.  The biggest disparity in per employee costs is in the manufacturing sector.  There, firms under 20 employees have twice as many costs per employee as those with more than 20 workers.  One can clearly see why US manufacturing has taken a toll in recent years.

Not convinced? Here are some more numbers from Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations:

  • 4,128  Number of regulations in the pipeline, including 404 which directly impact small businesses
  • 193  Number of “economically significant” rules ($100 million or more) finalized by the Obama administrations since 2009
  • $57.3 Billion  President Obama’s proposed budget request for regulatory activities in Fiscal Year 2012, compared to $2.8 Billion in 1960
  • 291,676  Number of federal employees creating regulations in FY2012, an increase of 410% since 1960

Hear from small business owner Richard Schwab, who owns M.A. Rigoni, Inc, a logging and timber business founded in 1960 that employs 35 people in Perry, Florida. His business is facing incredible uncertainty from the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations:

By José M. Martínez

Who are the guardians of the people’s liberty?

James Madison

James Madison

There exist opposing views on the roles of public servants. One holds that it is government’s duty to ensure freedom from all fear and want, which was made [in]famous in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech. This sounds like a lovely sentiment—until it comes at the expense of personal liberty. We can see this worldview in action with the huge growth in entitlement spending and expressed in the posters of the Occupy movement, i.e. “Where is my bailout?”

The other regards public servants as guardians of the people’s liberty. This idea is rooted in the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among other American founders. Just in case future elected officials lost sight of the founders’ intent, they had the foresight to protect it in the Constitution. Included in this was the federalist structure, or separation of state and federal power to protect personal liberty.

In a speech to Congress in 1789, James Madison said this about the role of state government in talking about our Bill of Rights:

… the state legislatures will jealously and closely watch the operation of this government, and be able to resist with more effect every assumption of power than any other power on earth can do; and the greatest opponents to a federal government admit the state legislatures to be sure guardians of the people’s liberty.

It appears we have forgotten Madison’s lessons. Power is terribly out of balance, and we see an increase in executive orders and regulatory agencies asserting power over the states decade after decade. However, we still can still devolve power from Washington and bring it back to the states—and ultimately back to the people. In fact, there are “guardians of liberty” who are hard at work to accomplish this feat.

Stay tuned as we explore current battles for freedom on this blog:

  • Attorneys General from Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia file suit against the federal government for overstepping the bound of the Constitution. See the list of violations here.

Do you know of any other guardians of liberty?