The Lowdown on the Shutdown

On October 17th the Northwest Florida Daily News published opinions about the government shutdown from Committeemen Steve Czonstka and Ellen Holt representing, respectively, the Republican and Democrat parties.  Although not invited, I offer my Libertarian observations on the matter.

The shutdown was nothing of the sort.  It was always more threat than action.  It threatened a more fiscally responsible course that the Democrats took advantage of to seed the public with fear over how indispensable the government is.  The Republicans used it to show they really meant business when even they knew they didn’t.   In the end, it proved to be merely a delay on the road to more government intervention.  Government again functions spending more than it takes it, abusing the rights of individuals, and finding every excuse possible to avoid limits to Federal power as per the Constitution.

Who created the bru-ha-ha really is immaterial.  The shutdown supposedly put a halt to the non-essential 17% of the government, but who asks how did that 17% get there in the first place, or was there any doubt that the non-essentials would start work again after the shutdown? In the cynical calculus of Washington D.C., the major parties know they live or die by using the power of government to hand out benefits to their friends while progressively confiscating the wealth and rights of all.   That is how those non-essentials were created in the first place.  That is how both major parties stay in power.

The shutdown shows the major parties have far more in common than they care to admit. Both advocate compelling you with the force of law to do things with your life and property that you otherwise would not do.  Both major parties have grown the State and Federal governments to the point they are fiscally unsustainable.   The Affordable Care Act is a great case in point.  The Democratic Party bankrupts individuals with mandatory, monopolistic insurance and fines, while Republicans conveniently forget their own enthusiasm for the massive Medicare Part D, or that their candidate for President, Mitt Romney, oversaw his own massive State run healthcare system in Massachusetts.  The Republican motto is “repeal and replace” not just repeal.  Neither of these parties truly wants to reduce government.

I am not the only one saying this.  Every day one can read how Americans see what is going on.  On the surface, the major parties profess commendable values such as caring for the welfare of their fellow human beings, fighting for civil liberties, fiscal accountability and standing by their principles.  In reality, their policies have made their fellow citizens more dependent on government, limited civil liberties, amassed debt, and generally paid attention to their principles only in press releases.  There isn’t a single aspect of American life that is free from government intervention thanks to Republican and Democrat policy.

Even in the field of political competition Americans must struggle with a thumb on the scales.  Both Steve Czontska and Ellen Holt have the privilege to be elected on a publicly funded election ballot, yet I am prohibited by law from doing the very same thing specifically because I am a Libertarian (FS103.091(4)).   Not only do those of us outside the major parties have to fight for people’s minds, we must also fight those who would rather outlaw us than deal with us.

Libertarians know our nation is on an unsustainable course.  We cannot continue accumulating debt.  We cannot allow lawmakers to reduce people’s rights to the level of serfs.  Government intervention must be stopped.  If not, the laws of fiscal mathematics and public outrage will eventually take over.  Stopping these trends has been the Libertarian message for decades.

In her column Ellen Holt expressed fear that a government shutdown could collapse the economy.  If so, it is an abject lesson for us all to not allow government to rule our lives.

Steve Czontska quoted Ronald Reagan, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction…”

I prefer Reagan’s quote, “…I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”

Pete Blome is Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party, and an At-Large Rep for the Libertarian Party of Florida

It’s Not About Fairness

Senate President Don Gaetz took pains in an editorial last week (‘Revolving Door’ editorial fails fairness test, Northwest Florida Daily News, 22 Sep13) to defend his Chief of Staff, Chris Clark, who earned $400,000 working as a political consultant during his time off from working for the Senate President.

He made it clear he considered such a relationship neither illegal nor unethical, and welcomes future criticism.  “It’s a practice that Democrats and Republicans have used without any serious problem that I’m aware of,’’ said Gaetz.

Indeed, no one can object to a person using their wits to earn a living, especially when it is neither unethical nor illegal.  Of course, in this case we are talking about someone who is supposed to deal with people as a chief of staff of the Senate President that at other times of the year he may deal with as clients.  That’s a tough trick to pull off and not be doing special favors for someone.  In addition, it begs the question, but for his connections to the Senate President and as Chief of Staff would Mr. Clark make the hefty sums he does consulting?  I speculate that he would not.

Senator Gaetz is ignoring an obvious problem between government, access to power, and money. In the public eye behavior like this leads to a range of questions about government service as a means to private wealth, impartiality in government, and whether it is who you know not what you know that counts in this world.  Should Mr. Clark benefit financially both being an active public servant and at the same time privately consulting using the knowledge and contacts he makes as a public servant?  Most people, instinctively, would say no.

There is little doubt Senator Gaetz thinks he should.  The relationship between Gaetz and Clark is a close one.  According to the Tampa Bay Times, 31 August 13, he was Don Gaetz’s campaign manager in the 2005 Florida Senate race (paid a salary of $128,000 too), was given large chunks of the year off from 2009 to 2012 to consult for other Republican campaigns in the State, and immediately thereafter had his state salary increased from $76,068 to $150,000, “making him the highest paid staff member of the Florida Legislature.”  The Senator said the increase was justified because Clark “took a significant pay cut when he came to work for me six years ago.”  The favors go further.  After Mr. Clark returned to the Senate from his latest political consulting trail in 2012, Don Gaetz gave him $10,000 as a “win bonus.” He might argue good people are hard to find, and this is the way to get them keep them.

Clearly, Mr. Clark is using his position as a means to private wealth.  For him, working for the Senator is both a public service and a private business that generates as much private revenue as the demand in the market will allow.  Speculating again, I think that can be a lot of money.

Impartiality is also out the window.  Since Mr. Clark seems primarily involved with getting other Republicans elected to office, can anyone that opposes his political clients be sure that they are getting fair treatment when they meet him doing his job in the Senate?  Then again, Senator Gaetz might not have hired him to be impartial, but simply get the administrative job done the way the Senator likes.

Lastly, we see the old adage confirmed, once again, that it is who you know that counts.

Overall, this controversy has said more about Senator Gaetz than it does about Mr. Clark.  Clark works for Gaetz, and the Senator can pay him whatever he wants to pay him. Clark is also a public servant with current and exceptional access to legislative decision makers that he can pass off to clients. He is taking advantage of it with the Senator’s blessing.

Just because the law allows you to do something does not mean you should do it.

One thing is for sure. This isn’t about fairness.

Pete Blome is Chair of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party and an At-Large Rep for the Libertarian Party of Florida.