The Real Bill Richardson
The fact that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is being embraced by fiscal conservatives ("The Real Bill Richardson," August/September) says more about the demise of the Republican Party on fiscal matters and the abject lack of fiscal restraint among mainstream Democrats than it does about Richardson's record.
Richardson has indeed cut income and capital gains taxes, as the article noted, though the positive effects of these cuts have been offset somewhat by tax hikes in other areas. What the article fails to mention is the massive expansion of New Mexico's government in the four years since Richardson took over from our previous governor, Gary Johnson. General fund spending has increased by more than 36 percent in the five years since Richardson took office. This includes an 11 percent increase this year alone.
Among the wasteful projects Richardson has made a high priority is a $400 million commuter rail project between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. With 20 new miles of track needed for completion and little but Indian reservations found between the two cities, the "Rail Runner" (as the project is known to locals) is just one of the governor's best-known boondoggles.
It is great that Richardson acknowledges the importance of being "market-oriented." It would be even better if he actually got spending under control and let the market work to improve living standards in New Mexico and, if elected president, nationwide.
Paul J. Gessing
Rio Grande Foundation
Robert Heinlein at 100
I enjoyed your retrospective on Robert Heinlein ("Robert Heinlein at 100," August/September) but feel that readers should be warned that his writing got worse with time. Stranger in a Strange Land was a great novel of ideas but not a very good novel. The principal characters have a lot to say about everything, and they just won't shut up. This gassy tendency in his writing reached a pinnacle (or perhaps a debacle) in Job: A Comedy of Justice, as painful a read as I've ever endured. When I go back and read the delightful The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, it's hard to believe it's the same author.
The Limits of Anti-Kelo Legislation
Ilya Somin complains that the backlash against eminent domain abuse has failed to produce significant changes in the law ("The Limits of Anti-Kelo Legislation," August/September). He argues, incorrectly, that because of "public ignorance" of what constitutes effective reform most reforms provide little or no protection to home and small business owners.
The proper starting point for analysis is the day before the U.S. Supreme Court's despised decision in Kelo v. New London (2005). At that point, eminent domain laws in virtually every state were completely rigged against property owners. Since the decision, dramatic changes for the better have occurred in a variety of contexts. Consider some of them:
• Two state supreme courts have explicitly rejected Kelo, while three others have questioned the validity of the decision under their state constitutions.
• As of this writing, 42 states have changed their eminent domain laws through either citizen initiative or legislation. About half of these measures provide strong protection against the abuse of eminent domain, and virtually all represent an improvement over the terrible laws that were on the books before Kelo.
• Just about every reasonably well-informed person in the country now knows about eminent domain abuse, and the vast majority oppose the use of eminent domain for private development. This public opposition has led to a complete change in the Zeitgeist. While public officials, planners, and developers in the past could keep condemnations for private gain under the public's radar screen and thus get away with the seizure of homes and small businesses, that is no longer the case. Susan Pruett, general counsel for the Georgia Municipal Association, has called Kelo "the worst case we ever won."
There are two main ways eminent domain can be abused for private development. First, a government can simply declare that the new project will produce more economic benefits—tax revenue, jobs, and an overall improved economy—and that these new "higher and better" uses of property justify the takings. Most of the states that have passed reform have prohibited this type of taking, which was at issue in Kelo.
Second, the government can declare neighborhoods "blighted" through vague and expansive definitions that permit the government to proclaim virtually any poor or even middle-class neighborhood blighted. Somin's main complaint is that many of the states that have reformed their eminent domain laws have not changed their blight laws, so blight designations can still be a back-door way to use eminent domain for private development. But Kelo was not a blight case, so even a favorable decision in Kelo would not have changed state blight laws. In the states that have changed their blight laws—and more than 20 have done so—property owners are actually better protected than they would have been if Kelo had come out the right way.
What has happened in the wake of Kelo is a classic example of losing the battle but winning the war. Much work certainly remains to be done, but denigrating post-Kelo reform does nothing to secure the property rights of homeowners and small businesses. We invite Somin to refocus his efforts, as he has in the past, on legal advocacy against eminent domain abuse. He will then be able to build on the great progress that has been made during the last two years, progress that demonstrates why so many people come up to those of us in the trenches and say, "Congratulations on Kelo."
Institute for Justice
Getting Beyond Roe
As a libertarian and a mother of four, I take issue with Radley Balko's characterization of the abortion controversy in "Getting Beyond Roe" (August/September) as a debate about "setting community standards" and his claim that issues such as abortion "are best dealt with in those diverse laboratories of democracy, the states." Abortion should no more be a question for local politics than slavery.
Community standards are the greatest threat to individual liberty there is. They have led to witch trials, kangaroo courts, censorship, and egregious takings through eminent domain. And now Balko would like to let them decide the reproductive fate of women. Our country is not a democracy, not even a federalist democracy, but a constitutional republic—a country in which the Constitution protects individuals against majoritarian trespass. As far as individual rights are concerned, the Constitution is useless if it can't protect one portion of the population from being forced into involuntary servitude by another, no matter at what level of government the enslavement takes place.
Perhaps Roe was decided wrongly, not because it nationalized a right to abortion but because it relied on the wrong precedents. The 13th Amendment is more germane to the abortion debate than the Griswold v. Connecticut line of cases and their amorphous right to privacy.
In Roe, Justice Harry Blackmun showed sympathy for the plight of women but also a profound paternalistic disrespect for the very people he was trying to help. To make the right of women to control their own bodies hinge on privacy instead of every individual's right not to be treated as a public resource indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of what is at stake.
For those, like myself, who believe abortion is fraught with moral difficulties, the correct course of action is to teach, communicate, and discuss the importance of valuing human life with our daughters, our female neighbors, and our friends. We must help them come to the correct conclusion based on good, clear reasoning and the strength of our convictions.
Pregnancy and birth are the most dangerous work most women will ever do. To deprive them of medically feasible means for escaping those dangers, let alone planning their lives, is to treat women with the greatest disrespect.
Director of Bioethics Studies