Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 478, July 27, 2008

"Our would-be keepers in both 'major'
parties want you to accept a lower
standard of living, and begin a long
slide back into the Dark Ages"

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The Day I Used the Government
by Paul Bonneau

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

The older and more experienced I get, the more I turn into an anarchist. So it will give no surprise to say that I have engaged in discussions about anarchism on Internet forums, and that the usual response by folks who are "not quite there yet" is something like "If there were no government, how could X get done?" Here is my personal anecdote about something pretty clearly (or so it would first seem) in the government sphere: the conduct of elections.

Years ago, I was driving down the street in Beaverton, Oregon one day when I saw a banner hanging over the road, saying something like "Vote for the new library" with a box and a check mark in it. I thought about that for a little while, then sent an email to the Oregon Secretary of State (Elections Division) asking whether this was kosher. They replied back that it was not, that it appeared to violate Oregon election laws, and did I want to file a formal complaint? I responded with a "yes". That was how I used the government, to police its own election laws. Let's see how that turned out.

The first thing the election division asked me was if I wanted to be a party to the communications between the perpetrators and the Elections Division. I said I did, for curiosity's sake more than anything. It certainly was illuminating.

The law in question is Oregon Revised Statute 260.432. Basically, public employees cannot advocate on one side of an election during work hours and public funds cannot be spent advocating one one side of an election.

What had happened is that all the city "movers and shakers" decided a city library that was housed in a former Safeway grocery store was not fancy enough, so they proposed spending $20 million (back when the dollar was worth something) for a fancy new building (note, no new books). I had gotten wind of something when in the old library there were papers floating around purporting to be a petition to fix the parking lot problem of not having enough parking space, which I thought was a bit strange at the time because as a frequent user of the library I had never had to park on the street for lack of space in the lot. This "petition" was apparently just one of the dodges dreamed up to justify a new library.

I wrote a letter to the editor and got some more information from another person, an insider, who wrote a letter in turn. Boiled down, the city not only created this banner obviously advocating on one side of the election for this tax hike, but spent some tens of thousands in an engineering study about how to create about 25 of these banners and where to hang them, of course on all the prominent thoroughfares into and through the city. Then they got city employees in these big "cherry picker" trucks to go out over several nights to hang them. When I discovered this I thought, "Gee, I wonder if I could have access to all these resources when I want my own favorite ballot measure to pass?" Seemed unlikely though...

Not only that, but I found that since there had been so many complaints about this sort of thing from all over the state, the Secretary of State had sent a warning to every government entity in Oregon to stay within the bounds of ORS 260.432, and giving all sorts of guidelines what was legal and what was not. And the law itself specified that the following be posted prominently in every place a public employee worked:


The restrictions imposed by the law of the State of Oregon on your political activities are that “No public employee shall solicit any money, influence, service or other thing of value or otherwise promote or oppose any political committee or promote or oppose the nomination or election of a candidate, the gathering of signatures on an initiative, referendum or recall petition, the adoption of a measure or the recall of a public office holder while on the job during working hours. However, this section does not restrict the right of a public employee to express personal political views.

It is therefore the policy of the state and of your public employer that you may engage in political activity except to the extent prohibited by state law when on the job during working hours.

Now clearly, every worker on those cherry picker trucks had violated this law—and they knew it. Their boss, and on up the chain to the mayor, had violated this law, and they knew it too.

The communications were between the Elections Division and the city attorney (who should have known better than anyone not to violate this law, and who had signed off on the banner contents). Bottom line? After reams of paper back and forth (including suggestions by the city attorney that I didn't really mean to complain), the city attorney was fined $100, and everyone else got a pass. This was for throwing an election, mind you.

The city took its good time taking the naughty banners down, no surprise. They replaced them, in another expensive move (hey, it's only taxpayer money after all) with banners that stayed within the guidelines—a week before election day.

Of course voters usually vote for anything with the word "library" in the ballot measure language. Government libraries are even more a sacred cow than government schools (which have lately gotten a bit tarnished a reputation). So the perps did not even have to bother with these shenanigans.

Just to add a little perspective, at about the same time the city attorney was paying his $100 fine for throwing an election, I was paying about $125 to the city for inadvertently crossing a double yellow line on my way home from work. It was inadvertent because they had repainted the line in a different place, and a policeman witnessed my vile transgression.

Anyway, the measure passed, a row of modest homes was bulldozed to make way (who knows what happened to the owners and renters) and a Stalinesque box was placed in the middle of Beaverton. I dreamed of the perfect final touch for this edifice: a huge bronze of our balding Mayor Drake in a business suit, with an AK-47 pointed at the sky in one hand (similar to heroic statues in what used to be commie-land) and a pair of VCR tapes in the other. The AK represents the force needed to impose this library on us, and the tapes represent the refinement and culture brought to the masses that would be absent were it not for our great public libraries.

Anyway, that was how I used government. I saw how well it policed its own function, elections. I also discovered once again that laws are for us peons, not for the ruling class.

By the way, I no longer use government libraries.

Some time after the election fiasco mentioned in , I noticed an article in the newspaper saying the Secretary of State had resigned, and the Governor had Beaverton Mayor Drake on his "short list" as a possible replacement.

I gleefully sent an email to the Governor's office suggesting that it might not look too good to have a government official whose job it is to oversee elections, when that person has an election violation on his own record (or at least allowed it—nay, encouraged it—to happen on his watch). I also provided the case number. For some reason, the Mayor was dropped from consideration.

As an older and wiser Paul Bonneau, though, I know what I should have done: kept my trap shut. That, and prayed to any diety I could find that Mayor Drake was selected. Then, the instant after the swearing-in ceremony, I would email every paper in the state informing them of the Mayor's sleazy violation, giving the case number, and adding that if somehow this case was "lost" from the Secretary of State's office, I would happily supply a full set of copies. And then watch the fireworks.

Oh, well; "live and learn."


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