Here in Iowa, we started 2008 buried in snow and ice. By June that had turned to tornadoes and floods. Not just any tornadoes and floods, but Iowa’s worst tornado since 1976 and our worst flooding in recorded history. The political climate didn’t prove any better than the weather.
Despite starting the year optimistic that libertarian Republican candidate Ron Paul would do well in the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary, giving him a bounce into a credible run for the GOP’s nomination for president, the Republicans instead nominated another big government neo-conservative. Although I myself have been lulled into the “lesser of two evils” mindset in previous elections, I could never vote for John McCain because I don’t believe he is any “lesser.” For the first time in my adult life, I truly didn’t care whether the Democrats or Republicans won the Whitehouse.
Let’s look at what went on in the categories of personal and economic freedom.
On the national front we saw the emergence of a strong new socialist leader who led the country toward nationalization of several major industries. To my chagrin it was not Barack Obama but “free-market Republican” President George W. Bush who has marched us hip deep into socialism. On an encouraging note, however, the RNC is poised to issue a rebuke to Bush and congressional Republicans for the massive “bailouts.”
In my state of Iowa, the Democrats, who control the statehouse and governorship, went into a holding pattern after hiking the minimum wage in 2007 (which went into effect Jan.1, 2008). However, they replaced the 1% SILO (School Infrastructure Local Option sales tax), which had to be occasionally approved by voters in each county, with a “Statewide Penny Tax,” thereby taking the decision away from local voters who might be too dumb to constantly reauthorize it. Lobbyists and politicians in Des Moines are already proposing other uses for this “school infrastructure” money.
In similar disdain for democracy, when voters in two Iowa localities (a county and school district) voted down tax increases, the respective governing bodies rescheduled special elections to vote on the same measure. The elections will be held after the county and school board have had time to properly “educate” voters on the issue. Sounds like, heads we win, tails we flip again, to me.
In December, Governor Culver announced his pragmatic move to cut state spending by 1.5 percent across-the-board. This is a nice departure from the usual Democrat idea to increase government spending during economic downturns. It leaves libertarians wondering why it takes a recession to get that done, however.
Gun owners got a needed boost when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the Second Amendment protects an individual, as opposed to collective, right to own firearms. This led to several U.S. cities dropping gun ban ordinances.
Gun owners in Iowa, however, had a setback when a modest bill to standardize training and issuance of concealed-weapons permits died in the legislature in April.
Personal freedom also took a hit when a statewide smoking ban went into effect in July. This lessened the liberty of Iowa’s smokers as well as its business owners.
2008 marked the first year that voters could register as Libertarian Party members on Iowa’s voter registration forms. As of July, however, only 150 had officially done so, although party membership is much higher. The Party’s presidential candidate, former congressman Bob Barr, received 4,608 votes statewide.
Peering into my crystal ball (which are issued to all bloggers), let’s examine the trends for 2009.
This year will probably be more of the same, or worse, for proponents of small government and free markets. President Obama and the Democrat Congress will no doubt treat Bush’s socialist power grab in the market as a floor, not a ceiling. Expect massive amounts of new regulations, new taxes, and scores of new bureaucrats administering it all. I think we’ll see a lot of that at the state level also.
The state of Iowa already has income and sales taxes and localities have sales and property taxes. A new proposal by some Iowa legislators would allow Iowa cities to also levy a tax on their denizens’ incomes. This is being sold largely as “property tax relief.” Ed Failor, Jr., President of Iowans for Tax Relief said: “Iowans are smart people, and we are smart enough to understand a new tax to reduce reliance on another tax is how politicians describe a tax increase.” The new income taxes will be around longer than any short-lived “relief” in property taxes.
There is also the ongoing chatter about getting rid of the deductibility of federal taxes on Iowan’s state income taxes. Essentially this would require Iowans to pay taxes on money that goes directly to the federal government that the wage earner never even sees.
This will be hit and miss depending upon whether you are in a group favored by liberal Democrats, but I would say the general trend is downward.
Hopes that Obama would do better on civil liberties than Bush, faltered somewhat when Obama supported a sweeping intelligence eavesdropping law opposed by his own party. Police state policies don’t look so bad when you will be the one wielding them. Civil libertarians should brace for more such letdowns.
Gun owners should follow the advice of Samuel L. Jackson in “Jurassic Park” and, “Hold onto your butts.” At a minimum we should expect federal efforts to resurrect and expand the ban on so-called “assault weapons,” banning of gun shows, gun storage laws and gun owner harassment.
Since the Iowa legislature has shown itself to be willing to regulate any human activity in the name of “public health,” Iowans can expect efforts to strengthen the smoking ban, bans on drink specials at bars, and bans on junk food in schools. All of these are already in discussion. A new mandate that only self-extinguishing “fire safe” cigarettes be sold in Iowa went into effect January 1st, despite complaints by smokers that they are hard to smoke and taste bad. (No, I don’t smoke. I just hate unnecessary regulation and meddling.)
The Iowa Supreme Court may rule soon on gay marriage in Iowa. A lawsuit against Iowa’s unfair concealed weapons issuance law may be advanced this year. Both could either help or harm their intended beneficiaries.
Not counting the weather, I believe 2009 will be about the same as 2008. The few glimmers of hope for personal freedoms will largely be extinguished by massive reductions in economic freedom. Since these infringements upon economic freedom will also have a negative effect upon the economy as a whole, more people will be harmed than helped and the recession will be longer than it needs to be.
Of course, I’ve been wrong before. Happy new year.