To Those Who Would Be King

February 7, 2011

For release noon Feb. 8 and thereafter (621 words)

The candidate announcements have begun. Every mayoral office and council seat in every city and town in Indiana will be on this next ballot. And the buzz has started for the 2012 gubernatorial race.

So soon? Indiana just completed an arduous election cycle. And the results sent a clear message to those in state and federal government. What was that message? That it is time, long past time, government be limited in its scope and expense, reducing the burden on taxpayers and beginning the restoration of the economic, social and individual liberties that are our rights as citizens.

If you are a voter in an Indiana city, listen carefully to the candidates’ announcements, especially the part where he or she articulates why they want to run. If it is not clearly described, or if the guiding principles are fuzzy, you should be wary. And alarm bells should sound in your head if you hear buzzword or cliché, e.g., “economic development,” “creating jobs,” “upholding Hoosier values,” “revitalizing downtown,” “progress” and “renewal.”

Or if the candidate starts discussing his or her “vision” for your city, be aware that what is envisioned might only be only a nifty idea that augments their power and influence — implemented by force, of course, and funded with money from you and your neighbors, whether you like it or not.

As for the candidate who sincerely wants to serve, he or she should recognize that good intentions alone are meaningless. If a plan, however high-minded, is not thought through it will have unintended consequences likely to overwhelm any positive outcome. Well-meaning people with the power to tax have done more damage to the prospects of our cities than any natural disaster.

In my time on the Terre Haute city council there was an ongoing debate with a colleague over a seemingly endless string of subsidies for downtown projects.

“But Ryan, we can’t just sit here and do nothing,” the colleague once said in exasperation,

But the people of Terre Haute were not “doing nothing.” They were actively and continuously deciding to invest their property (their money) in ways my colleague disapproved.

It is the height of arrogance to think that folks in my town, or any town in Indiana, sit around pining for officials to tell them what to do or how to invest their money. Please know that my fellow council member was not willing to invest his own money in his scheme but was more than willing to use the force of government to require everyone else to cough up money.

Such an approach speaks volumes about those who would use government for what is little more than a civic idea du’jour. As a candidate, you should firmly rebuff such an approach. And as a citizen, you should reject those who speak in these terms.

The reason someone would invest in your city is not difficult public policy. Indeed, it is easy to determine: People in general, whether a single entrepreneur or an established national company, invest where property rights are secure. They invest where the costs imposed by local government through taxation and regulation are low, competitive, stable and knowable into the future.

Persons commit and invest in a city where they know that the rights to their life, liberty and property are the priority for government. Put most plainly and succinctly, candidates should be explicit that they will get government off the backs, out of the wallets and out of the way of the citizens of their city. And citizens, for their part, should actively support those who make this crystal clear.

Conversely, it is a citizen’s duty to withhold support from those candidates, regardless of political party, who shroud their economic-development ideas in worn-out terms that can mean anything — or nothing.

Ryan Cummins, a business owner and adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, served two terms as the lone Republican on the Terre Haute Common Council. Contact him at


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