Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bill and the smoking ban

As much as I hate to give State Representative John Litz much credit for anything, I must credit him with the intestinal fortitude to vote no on a modified version of the Governor's Statewide smoking ban in the House Agriculture Committee yesterday. I wanted to be sure and mention Litz first because if I didn't give the Democrat credit, I know I'd hear it from some of my Democratic friends.

The person I am most proud of, through all of the debate over this, is Representative Mike Bell, who through his courageous stand showed that he will side with the cause of freedom when the going gets tough and the pressure is really on. You might say "gosh Oatney, this seems to have been a losing proposition from where Bell sits anyway, so he really had nothing to lose politically by being only one of two no votes on the committee." That may be the case, but the bill that passed the Ag Committee was amended so that tobacco shops, hotels, nursing homes, and a few other places that freedom-lovers like me were most concerned with were exempted. That doesn't make the bill any less restrictive on personal freedom, and Bell did the right thing in upholding his oath of office.

Am I glad that there are appropriate exemptions in this bill for places like the tobacco shops? Yes. Does this make the legislation more palatable? Without question. Should a freedom-loving Representative vote for this legislation even though it is more palatable? Were I serving in the House, I would not have voted for this legislation under any circumstances precisely because of the implications for the limitation of personal freedom.

There are very few people who are not aware of the health effects of smoking in 2007. As supporters of this bill have pointed out, many restaurants and businesses have banned smoking on their premises and this has not significantly impacted their business. That is fine-I think if a business owner wants to ban smoking in their establishment, they have an unquestionable right to do so and consumers can make the decision whether to frequent those establishments that ban smoking. If consumers want smoke-free air, the marketplace will give them smoke-free air. The State does not have the right to mandate to businesses what they should do or not do in this instance. The enforcement of this law could be another matter of unreasonable cost as well. No one has answered the question to my satisfaction as to who shall enforce this ban in my town.

If it was the Governor's goal to use the smoking ban as a means to divide his Republican opponents, he has mightily succeeded in doing so. Some very good people-solid sorts on the conservative right in this State, are supporting this bill (much to my dismay). One of its key Republican backers is former House Republican Leader Bill Dunn, a man whose integrity and commitment to the Cause on so many other matters cannot be questioned in the least. If I could beg anyone to please reconsider their position, it would be Bill Dunn-a man for whom I have a respect so high that it reaches to the outer parts of the known universe. Many others inside the Caucus who know Bill far better than I do feel the same way about him. When Bill takes a public position on something, you know he is serious about it. Even though he is no longer Leader, his influence within the Caucus is mighty indeed-he still has a strong base of support. I am utterly convinced that his support of this bill is what has insured that it will pass because when Bill Dunn speaks, members in both parties listen.

Such is my respect for Representative Dunn that were I in the House, if Bill asked me to vote for legislation to declare that the sky is green, I would probably do it. The reason for this is not because I have a "follower" attitude toward Bill Dunn, but because in an age when integrity in public life is in such short supply, Bill Dunn is the epitome of integrity. When the word is looked up in Webster's, there should simply be a picture of Bill Dunn there. That kind of integrity commands respect on both sides and can win votes, and I believe it has in this case.

How strongly do I feel about the wrong of the smoking ban? I would vote against Bill Dunn on know it must be pretty bad.



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