Monday, February 20, 2006

Where To Start?

It can be a frustrating endeavor if you are a supporter of limited government and greater liberty, trying to figure out where to start to apply your efforts in pursuit of your principles. All levels of life are rife with assaults on freedom, whether these are direct attacks or the results of unintended consequences.

Because allocation of resources is a factor, I always advocate starting with the smallest level of governance possible. I use that word intentionally. You'll see why in a moment.

Sure, federal issues are sexy. These are discussed on the network news, on the Sunday morning pundit shows, so you can easily talk to anybody about these issues and make your points. What you cannot is affect change easily, because just as anyone can talk about these, everybody with a million dollars and an advocacy group that spends millions of dollars also talks about, and lobbies on, these federal issues.

Local issues aren't so flashy, but they affect you, and probably more directly, and in ways you feel. Everybody talks about Iraq, but really only a small percentage of people feel this directly. Sure, we all pay federal taxes, but that money goes into the hopper and is dispersed over many more allocations than we could begin to name or even count. When a municipality has a smoking ban, and you smoke, you feel it. If you own a restaurant business, and the smoking ban is enacted, you feel its effect on the numbers of customers you draw.

If you live in a modern subdivision that has a set of covenants included with the recorded plat, coupled with a vigorous enforcement effort by a Homeowners Association (HOA), you can really feel it.

Some HOAs regulate on an order never dreamt on by Soviet Politboro, much less know-it-all city planning commissions. They regulate such arcane things as the color of the roof or the paint on the walls, the make & model of the mailbox, the dates you are permitted to have Christmas lights hung on the house, whether or not you may have a shed or pole barn, etc. Your neighbors may be the very ones keeping an eye on you so they can rat you out to the HOA, insisting you take down a political sign, or re-paint your house a more neutral color.

Today's Indy Star has an excellent article outlining the stresses of living within subdivisions with vigorous HOAs. From the article:
More than 54 million Americans are living in subdivisions subject to covenants and homeowners associations, according to the Community Associations Institute's national headquarters in Alexandria, Va.

Critics say covenants, which gained popularity during the rise of suburbia following World War II, often are overly restrictive. Advocates, however, say the documents protect homeowners' interests by establishing and enforcing community standards.

"They provide homeowners the chance to govern themselves, maintain the property and enhance property values," said Matt Englert, president of the Central Indiana chapter of the Community Associations Institute.

There is no doubt that most homeowners buy blindly, failing to even read the restrictive covenants. It often looks like so much legalese and gobbledegook, that buyers gloss over and sign the purchase documents. At that point, they have locked themselves into not having a backyard pool or Christmas lights in April. As ever, Caveat Emptor.

However, this is a place where Libertarians can do much good. In my Fishers subdivision, there is a covenant about the mailboxes. Nobody adheres to it. Heaven forbid some busybody with nothing else to do should become the HOA president, and enforce the convenants. About 75% of the neighborhood will find itself shelling out some 50 bucks to get the "right" mailbox.

One's choice of mailboxes is not what makes or breaks a subdivision. General upkeep of the properties means a whole lot more than a personalized mailbox.

Libertarians need to get involved with their HOAs on a leadership level. I know- it isn't nearly as much fun as talking about Iraq or earmarks, but it does two things. It makes home a much happier, freer place to live, and, it gives a nice resume item that shows you can work with people and that the neighborhood didn't go up in flames in the way the paranoid distopian fantasies the opponents of freedom like to describe any time you talk about scaling back control and command with regard to property ownership.

Besides, unless you are a millionaire celebrity, you aren't getting elected to the US Senate without having served a lower office first anyway. At home is where you can start to make a large difference.


Todd S. said...

Agreed. I've been serving on my HOA board for a few months now. It's one night a month, and not that many duties. Plus, I spent all of 5 minutes and no money on a campaign, and still got elected!

Anonymous said...

If you weren't so serious you'd be funny. You know that your neighborhood doesn't have any kind of organized HOA. No dues, (probably what attracted you there in the first place), no compliance teeth in the covenants (which explains the fish and train locomotive mail boxes - VERY classy), no common area maintenance expense (the "evil" town of Fishers does that for you)

"I always advocate starting with the smallest level of governance possible." (So how do you explain the fact that you are running for a STATE office?)

"Libertarians need to get involved with their HOAs on a leadership level." (So does that mean you are not a libertarian? Since you are not involved one bit in your local government.)

I don't see anything on your resume that qualifies you to be secretary of an HOA, let alone an entire state. You seem to be active only in criticizing your town council and political parties. Maybe you should take your own advice and run for a local office first. Like maybe a town council seat. Running for a statewide office with a volunteer staff of 20 and no money is a waste of volunteer time and other peoples money. Instead of armchair quarterbacking why don't you get some skin in the game? It is hard for anyone to take you as seriously as you take yourself.

GadFlier said...

Isn't it heartening to know that you are so very important that members of the Fishers council see fit to read your every blog post and then comment upon many of them?

GadFlier said...

Now, getting to the topic at hand, I have a hard time getting up in arms about homeowners' associations. They are voluntary, after all. When I bought my property, I went over the paperwork to an extent that surprised the professionals--pointing out statements here and there that they claimed not to be aware of in their own pre-printed paperwork. It's not like we're talking about buying a stick of gum, here. Homeowners' associations are contractual coalitions, exactly the sort of contractual coalitions that Libertarians like to say they support. Comparing them to the Politburo is really not all that honest. You might not like what you have signed yourself into, but you chose to sign into it. It was not imposed upon you in the same way government is imposed.

Ed Godard said...

Yeah, signing 'anonymous' is really putting some skin into it, huh councilman. Bwaaahahahahaha!

John Q. Fishers Resident said...

My point is that instead of merely criticizing every action of the council (all the while using the ink and air time to further a futile state office bid) why not run for a local office, ACTUALLY get elected and then ACTUALLY make a difference. Kidding yourself into thinking that you have more than a slim chance of getting even 2% of the vote is a waste. Start locally and work your way up...seems like a logical course. Why then not follow your own advice? Superiority complex? More likely it's that Mike doesn't ACTUALLY have a plan, only negative criticism and a need to get free press. Just call me JQFR. bwaahahaha

Mike Kole said...

Wow- lots of commentary. Let me address some things.

I am running for Secretary of State because Indiana election laws tie Libertarian ballot status to this race. I am committed to the Libertarian Party's growth and being a choice for Hoosiers, so I took on this race. Not a superiority complex. Someone had to do it for the sake of the party, so it may as well be me, because I believe in the Libertarian Party.

As for my chances, conventional wisdom definitely works against me. However, our candidate earned 4.1% in 2002, and we have grown since then. Just like any candidate, I am running to win because that is the right way to play. The secondary objective is 10%, which I think is rather attainable given our growth statewide.

I would enjoy running for Town Council, but the municipal election cycle is in 2007, so it will have to wait.

If you have followed my writing for any time, and it seems that you have, then you would know that I had letters of praise for Fishers published in both the Noblesville Daily Times and the Ledger, in response to the high ranking in Money Magazine.

However, those things worth criticizing, get criticized. Any new tax or growth of government will be criticized by me. I won't apologize for that.

I agree with Gadflier that HOAs are the kinds of voluntary associations that I like as a Libertarian, and buying into one definitely is a caveat emptor item, as I stated in the post. Not a stick of gum, as you say. But when things are less than perfect, a great way to make changes is by being part of the process. So, my Politboro reference wasn't so much about the HOAs themselves, but about the busybodies that too often populate them.

Ed Godard said...

Who the heck needs a resume to be qualified to be involved with a HOA? You live in the neighborhood? You're qualified! The worst thing to happen to our country is the pro politicians that are usually lawyers. Get some common people on board and you'll get a whole lot more common sense. I'll bet the Fishers board is loaded with lawyers.