... and an uncomfortable one, at that.
Rexburg, Idaho is plausibly considered the most Republican community in the union. It is also my hometown – the place where I graduated from High School and junior college, where I was senior class president and starting fullback on Madison High School's first state championship football team, and made many good and close friends.
In recent years, Ricks College has expanded into a four-year university, Brigham Young-Idaho. The LDS (Mormon) Church has also announced plans to construct a temple in the community. The conjunction of these two developments has led to a growth spurt: Over the past six years, 9,000 people have moved into the southeastern Idaho town. Rexburg, a small, socially conservative town, has begun to outgrow its infrastructure.
Last year, city voters turned down a $950,000 levy to pay for street repair and other improvements, and the Idaho state legislature later voted down a proposal to permit college towns to raise local sales taxes. Furthermore, the construction boom hasn't done much to expand the property tax base, since most of the new properties – such as expanded college facilities and Mormon Church meeting houses are tax-exempt; in fact, roughly half of the property in the city is off the tax rolls.
With the local revenue aquifer running dry, the Rexburg City Government has decided to invest $60,000 to retain the services of the National Group, a Washington lobby shop run by veteran Republican activist John Harmer of Bountiful, Utah. Harmer's company, reports the AP, was hired “to bring in federal money.”
Rexburg Mayor Shawn Larsen
This is to say that it will work its wiles on legislators in the Imperial City in the hope that they will steal money from communities in Wisconsin, Iowa, Alabama, and elsewhere in order to pay for street improvements in my southeastern Idaho hometown.
If the city has $60,000 to spend on lobbyists, and its needs are so pressing, why doesn't it either spend the money on some urgent project?
Harmer claims that his firm is charging Rexburg half its normal fee, and that it will bring back five or six times its fee in federal boodle. City Mayor Larsen expects to spend the ill-gotten funds on road and street improvements, as well as “homeland security and economic development.”
The former, of course, means that Rexburg's Finest will be folded into the ever-growing Leviathan Force. And like other cities nationwide, Rexburg is most likely going to find creative ways of raising the funds to keep its lobbyists on the payroll – which means speed traps, red-light cameras, and other police shake-downs will become common back in my hometown.
Among the most disagreeable aspects of this sordid business is the fact that those involved in this corrupt exercise in public plunder are consciously sinning against constitutional principle.
A little more than sixteen years ago, while working as a columnist at the Provo, Utah Daily Herald, I interviewed John Harmer during his congressional campaign in Utah's 3rd District. A former Lt. Governor to Ronald Reagan, Harmer, understandably, was eager to play on that association, urging voters to see him as inheriting Reagan's mantle as an exponent of minimalist government. Suffice it to say that Harmer, like Reagan, has never been bent double beneath the burden of his limited-government principles.
John Harmer: Political profit before principle
Harmer has been successful as a political entrepreneur, casting himself as an anti-pornography paladin, urging the creation of a federal commission to explore (among other things) changes to federal obscenity laws. He's smart enough to recognize that a federal “war on porn” would be as successful in dealing with that problem as the “war on drugs” has been at eliminating narcotics use – and he's probably cynical enough to recognize the profit potential in declaring “war” on another ineradicable vice.
More recently, Harmer has sold his services to the Chinese automaker Geely, which plans to market a five-passenger family sedan, priced below $10,000, in the USA starting in 2008. Harmer has no background in the auto business, but great value as a Sherpa to aid the Chinese automaker through the treacherous terrain of US regulatory law.
Which is to say, once again, that Harmer, a supposed bane enemy of large, invasive government, has learned how to make a profit from regulatory overkill.
Were he a genuine patriot and constitutionalist, Harmer would devote his efforts to the task of paring back the regulatory thicket, or even putting it to the torch.
But that's not where the money is.
There is something ironically appropriate in the designation of Republican strongholds as “red” states: During the late, unlamented Republican reign, these communities – often vilified as strongholds of reaction – have become clients of Washington and net consumers of redistributed wealth.
This is true, alas, even of my hometown, where I learned the virtues of constitutionally limited government, and the evils of welfare state collectivism.