Let’s talk common sense and facts about guns

In Blog, Capitol Review by Mark Hillman0 Comments

In the debates that rage after each highly-publicized mass shooting, one side claims that more restrictive gun laws could prevent future such tragedies while the other side counters that the rights of law-abiding gun owners shouldn’t be sacrificed because of the horrendous act of someone who disregarded existing laws.

It’s never been easy to have a rational conversation about guns, but in today’s hyper-charged political culture, voices on each side too often think that being loudest means you are winning.  My friend and former state Sen. Alice Nichol often recalled her father’s maxim: “The louder you are, the ‘wronger’ you are.”

Insulting gun owners polarizes the debate.  Outspoken Florida high school students may motivate those who sincerely wish that laws would prevent mass shootings, but their condescension and incivility also infuriate defenders of gun rights.  The loudest voices usually make the least sense because loudness is no substitute for logic or reason.

Survivors are sympathetic figures, but they have no special insight into preventing the next shooting.  Why does the media, in this circumstance, confuse proximity with expertise?  Nobody considered survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing to be instant experts on terrorism.

Gun owners reasonably ask for evidence that new burdens on their rights will produce the promised results.  The evidence is thin.Read More

The True Meaning of Independence

In Blog, Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

As we observe the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence this Fourth of July, we should consider the unique form of government for which our Founding Fathers chose to risk “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” against the militarily-superior British.

The definitive passage in the Declaration reads:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

In these 57 words, the Founders established that:

  • Our rights — better understood as “freedoms” — are given to us by a power higher than government. No matter what you believe about creation or evolution, you must acknowledge that government did not give us life.
  • Government’s legitimate purpose is to protect the rights of the people. Just as government did not give us life, it did not give us our rights.
  • Government’s legitimate powers are limited to only those given to it by the people.

“The whole point was to show how government might arise legitimately, not to assume its existence,” writes constitutional scholar Roger Pilon in The Purpose and Limits of Government.

These insights are particularly useful because, as a libertarian, Pilon does not advance a religious conservative agenda.  Yet he acknowledges that the Founders’ common view of “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God” provide the cornerstone for all that follows:

We hold these truths to be self-evident….

The signers of the Declaration didn’t negotiate and compromise to define truth.  They agreed that certain fundamental truths were obvious.  For example:

…That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

In that each of us exists because of the same creative process, our individual are necessarily equal.  Such rights are best understood as freedom from interference, whether by government or by other people which, of course, implies that others are entitled to be free from our interference.

Freedom encompasses not simply the opportunity to make choices but the responsibility for those choices.  Freedom does not mean that, because my choice seems superior, I can bend others to my will through the power of government, nor does it mean that when I make an irresponsible choice I am immune from consequences.

…That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Once the Founders established a broad universe of rights, they discussed government, its sole purpose to protect those rights.  Again it is imperative to understand “rights” as freedoms — not as an entitlement taken at the expense of someone else.

When government legitimately protects our freedom, it simply does that which we have a right to do ourselves.  By contrast, government does not act legitimately if it secures my rights by taking the life, liberty or property of someone else.

When the rights of two people may conflict and neither can fully exercise freedom without adversely affecting the other, the Founders reasoned that in these circumstances, the boundaries between competing rights ought to be drawn by the people whom government serves.  However, “consent of the governed” does not empower majority rule to deny freedom to the minority.

This concept of a vast ocean freedoms and tiny islands of government power bears little resemblance to our federal government today, which is why it is so vitally important that we understand the foundation of our government before electing someone to lead it.

As Ronald Reagan warned, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.  We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Capitol critics ignore reality of changing Colorado

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Ideas inspire both philosophers and legislators, but the two jobs differ considerably thereafter.

That distinction is critical to understanding the current dust-up between the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara and several Republican lawmakers.

A thoughtful, assertive voice for liberty, Caldara is a friend and an ally.  He and the Institute advocate tirelessly for personal freedom and limited government – principles that are as dear to me now as they were when I served in the Colorado Senate.

Caldara’s job is to turn up the heat on lawmakers when they are being cajoled to compromise.  His job is not, however, to consider those same lawmakers’ prospects for re-election or to balance the competing interests that lawmakers face back home.

So, when Caldara calls for the Republican Party to purge lawmakers who, in his view, don’t sufficiently toe the line, it’s time for all of us to take a deep breath and assess the realities that lawmakers must face – or ignore at their own peril.

Legislators have a responsibility to the people they represent.  They are responsible for governing, particularly when their party is empowered with a majority.

In Colorado, Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the state Senate.  Democrats hold a nine-vote margin in the state House, and they’ve held the Governor’s Mansion for more than a decade.

The reality is that Republicans cannot pass legislation without some cooperation from Democrats – and vice versa.Read More

Time for Republicans to suck it up and produce

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

The repeal-and-replace debacle ought to be a cold shower for every Republican in Washington. It demonstrated that with so many Republicans advancing their own agenda, the party’s lawmakers can’t shoot straight – except at each other.

Republicans of all stripes now face the urgent task of proving that they can actually deliver on their promises. Stop racing to the TV cameras and start governing.

Republicans must produce results well before the 2018 election or they will deserve to be thrown out.

This isn’t as difficult as it might appear. President Trump is no policy wonk. With few exceptions, he cares more about “winning” than about details. Help him win, and he’ll be your ally. Embarrass him, and he’ll bargain with Democrats – including for future Supreme Court appointments.Read More

Restoring market forces isn’t as simple as repealing old laws

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

As a believer that market forces are better at serving consumers than are government regulators, I found de-regulation one of the most challenging issues while I served in the Colorado Senate.

When government intervenes, it always tilts the playing field.  Sometimes it does this for ostensibly good reasons – most notably to provide all Coloradans with electricity and telephone service as was done predominately in the first half of the 20th century.

But decades later, de-regulating those areas in order to promote competition turned out to be more complicated than just repealing old statutes.  Technology ultimately made local telephone monopolies obsolete, but before that happened, fights over bills to allow local competition were cutthroat.Read More

What are GOP leaders thinking?

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

As rank-and-file Republicans, we have a tendency to tear down the people we’ve long known and trusted about five minutes after they are elevated into “leadership.” It’s easy to forget that the “burden of leadership,” truly is a burden. Most notably, it’s burdened by the reality of the way things are, as opposed to the idealism of the way we wish them to be.

So, as a conservative who once carried that burden in a relatively minor way and who for the last decade has been quite content to rejoin the grassroots, I encourage my fellow Republicans to take time to consider why our party’s elected leaders sometimes make decisions that run counter to our first instincts.

After all, these are conscientious people who earned the trust of their constituents and their fellow lawmakers. They don’t grow horns the moment they are elected to leadership.Read More

Hard to blame Trump for fighting back vs. media

In Blog, Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Donald Trump’s congenital belligerence may not wear well with the public over the next four years, but it’s been certainly central to a persona that has regularly defied “normal” expectations and won an ardent corps of loyalists.

Trump’s irreverence for political correctness, the media, and the “establishment” resonates with a large swath of the public that’s sick and tired of being told what to think by people who consider themselves better, smarter and more sophisticated than the rest of us.

Trump’s shut down of CNN reporter Jim Acosta (“Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news.”), during an inaugural week press conference, was a satisfying display of Trump’s punch-back style. He was particularly incensed that CNN had promoted a dubious Buzzfeed posting of an unsubstantiated “intelligence memo” that claimed Russia had compromising information about him.

Most politicians “play nice” to seek favorable – or, at least, fair –treatment from the dominant liberal media. For Democrats, that’s easy because the overwhelming share of reporters supports the Democrat agenda.

Trump’s approach is more confrontational. If the press is out to get him (which, by and large, it is), then why not drop the pretense of mutual respect?Read More

Hard to sympathize with higher ed budget ballad

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

The spending lobby at the State Capitol is shameless in its clamoring for higher taxes on Colorado’s families and businesses.  The latest chorus of woe comes from the ivory tower of academia.

Colorado’s public four-year institutions enroll some 175,000 students and employee about 25,000 staff.  Yet during the past seven years, these same schools have added nearly as many employees (3,537) as students (3,664).  That’s right: enrollment grew by just 2% but the number of employees increased by 17% during a period of supposed budget austerity.

Lumping K-12 schools into the same complaint merely employs the tired tactic of using school children as a ploy to bolster spending elsewhere.  Arguments that K-12 schools are shortchanged carry far more weight than cries of poverty from denizens of the ivory tower who supplement taxpayer funds with students’ tuition.

Consider some key figures measuring growth in Colorado’s economy and state budget since 2010:

  • Population, up 10%.
  • Personal income, up 33%.
  • General fund spending, up 49%.
  • Total state spending, up 35%.
  • K-12 general fund spending, up just 16%.
  • Higher education general fund, up 103%; total spending, up 55%.

Read More

Here’s why I’m voting YES on Amendment 71 – Raise the Bar

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Let’s face facts:  In 2016, new amendments to Colorado’s state constitution are more likely to diminish our rights than to protect them.

So the more I hear arguments about Amendment 71, the more I’m convinced that we need to vote yes to “Raise the Bar” to make it harder to amend our state constitution.

Colorado’s bill of rights covers the essentials: inalienable rights to life, property and pursuit of happiness; free exercise of religion; freedom of speech and of the press; right to bear arms; no taking of private property without just compensation; security from unreasonable search and seizure.

However, the Colorado constitution lacks the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution, which can be amended only by supermajorities — a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and ratification by three-fourths of the States.

The U.S. Constitution purposefully requires consensus and deliberation and discourages impulsiveness in order to protect our rights.

Colorado’s constitutional process is a product of the Progressive Era, which viewed the U.S. Constitution as outdated, so Colorado voters in 1910 approved a new process of citizen-initiated amendments: one vote, one time.  This is a tool for impulsiveness.Read More

Embracing ObamaCare caused Colorado budget crunch

In Blog, Capitol Review, Notes by Mark Hillman

The newest dubious justification for weakening Colorado’s limits on government spending is “our aging population.”

The spending lobby seeks to frighten senior citizens by telling them that the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) in our state constitution “hampers the ability to fund key programs.”

Parents are told that public schools are in a squeeze because state government needs more money.  But ask why social welfare spending is growing three times as fast as spending on education, and you’re told it’s because Medicaid has enrolled more children and senior citizens – as if that happened merely by chance.

Those explanations ignore some inconvenient facts.Read More