Morris: Our Last Redoubt
by Leo Morris
In Huntington, the powers that be are getting a little high-handed, so some residents are getting a little testy. It’s politics at its best and worst.
Late last month, the City Council passed an ordinance that, among other things, put some teeth in Gov. Holcomb’s mask mandate. Police can issue a written warning to first-time violators and follow it up with a $25 fine. Then, the fine will increase by $50 for each repeated offense, which could get pretty expensive for the obstinately recalcitrant.
That edict brought about 50 people out to protest in front of the Huntington County Courthouse what one attendee said was officials slowly but surely “taking our rights and our freedoms.” Failed Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Donald Rainwater stopped by and urged the crowd to vote out council members “at the earliest opportunity.”
It was the worst of politics because the council overreacted, potentially putting already overworked police into the middle of something it really shouldn’t have to fool with. Doesn’t Huntington already have enough criminals without actively trying to create a whole new class of them?
It was the best of politics because so many upset by the ordinance went into the “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” mode. Fifty people is a lot for a city the size of Huntington.
In our federal system, where power is diffused not only through the three branches of the federal government but also through various levels of government, we should want the most power exercised at the most local level, where officials have the most knowledge of our specific opportunities and challenges and, in theory, the ability to come up with the best solutions.
And voters have the most control over local officials who go off the deep end. It is far easier to vote a councilman or mayor out of office than it is to boot out a governor, president or member of Congress.
So, we should demand more home rule from state officials, less naked power from federal officials and fewer unfunded mandates from all of them. Local autonomy should be our anthem, with the less authority over money and our lives the further up the government ladder we go.
Instead, we are upside down, with the people having the least understanding of our day-to-day needs making the most decisions over how we live our lives. And our state and federal governments have abused our trust at every turn. (This complaint is limited to government responses to COVID-19, as tempting as it is to do otherwise.)
Federal officials, reacting to ever-changing pronouncements from “experts,” issue edict after edict supposedly the only sane course to take no matter how much each one contradicts the last one. Our economy ends up wrecked for no good reason and our school systems shut down with lasting damage to our children. The president-in-waiting promises, on the day of his inauguration, 100 days of masking we know from experience will just go on and on.
State officials insult us almost daily with “do as I say, not as I do” violations of their own quarantine orders. They put stricter rules on churches than on department stores. They sentence senior citizens to nursing home death traps. They grant social-distancing exceptions to “protesters” who stop traffic and set fire to buildings.
Here in Indiana, legislators should be honestly examining their own actions, such as unconstitutionally giving the governor such sweeping emergency powers. Instead, they are using COVID-19 as an excuse to raise taxes (on cigarettes, this time), something they are normally deathly afraid to do.
Local governments are the only ones that still have a shred of the faith citizens must invest for our experiment in self-rule to keep working. If that faith goes, if the last shred of trust is squandered, what do we do when an even worse pandemic hits, as it surely will?
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.