Democratic Fairfax Embraces Its Inner Tea Party

Even people who benefit from big government love it less when they have to live under it.


You can't get a whole lot more Democratic than Fairfax County, just outside of D.C.  Barack Obama carried Fairfax 60-38 against John McCain in 2008. That's six percentage points higher than Obama's statewide margin, which Fairfax helped inflate because it is the commonwealth's largest locality: 13.5 percent of Virginians live there. Four years before, George W. Bush carried Virginia with 54 percent of the vote – but not Fairfax, where John Kerry got 53 percent.

The county board of supervisors reflects the split as well. Seven of the 10 members are Democrats. That makes its recent stance on state government rather amusing.

Each year localities around Virginia draw up their wish lists for the General Assembly session that convenes in January. Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that localities are under the thumb of state government and must go hat in hand to the legislature to get permission to do many things. Fairfax recently completed its wish list for the 2012 session.

And what do the supervisors want from Richmond? "I think the simple message is, 'Please try to leave us alone,' " says Supervisor Jeff McKay.

How very Tea Party of them. Perhaps Fairfax should replace its county seal with the Gadsden Flag – that yellow banner, popular at Tea Party rallies, with coiled snake and the legend, "Don't Tread on Me."

That's not the only way in which heavily Democratic Fairfax sounds sympathetic to the Tea Party rabble. Like those grassroots conservatives in tricorner hats, the county also thinks it is Taxed Enough Already.

Fairfax is one of the richest counties in America. With a median household income in six figures, it comes in second only to the nation's richest county, next-door Loudoun. And yet, as reported recently in The Washington Post, the county's wish list "includes other perennial desires: that Northern Virginia taxpayers see more of the money they send to Richmond, for example."

"Overall, the county would be pleased if the Virginia General Assembly would stop using Northern Virginia as its piggybank," continues The Post. Translation: Fairfax does not want to "spread the wealth around," as Barack Obama put it to Joe the Plumber. But wait – Obama says spreading the wealth around is "good for everybody." Does the county disagree?

When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton famously replied that that's where the money is. Same goes for Northern Virginia: The heavily populated, high-income region generates a big chunk of the state's wealth. Where else should legislators look for revenue – Pearisburg (population 2,700, median household income $40,000)? 

 What happened to making the rich pay their fair share?  

Dig deeper into the county's wish list and you find other gems. It wants more state aid to localities, and opposes any funding cuts ("erosions of the social safety net") that might leave localities on the hook for Medicaid costs. Translation: Let's have lots of health care, paid for by someone else. There's limousine liberalism in a nutshell. As George Mason University's Bryan Caplan once explained, "The wealthy but uncharitable socialist ceases to be a mystery once you understand relative prices. Voluntary charity is costly to the giver, but voting for charity … is virtually free."

The supervisors also want to prohibit protests at funerals. They support efforts to fight global warming by mandating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. They want the power to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. They also oppose the push to protect property owners from eminent-domain abuse.

In brief, then, Fairfax officials are eager to order other people about. They just don't want to take any orders from Richmond. Unfortunately, the Dillon Rule says they have to.

Funny thing about that rule. It was named after John Forest Dillon, an Iowa Supreme Court justice back in the Tammany Hall era who thought little of local government. He believed that "those best fitted by their intelligence, business experience, capacity and moral character" did not generally enter local government. So local governments needed close  watching.

That's not wildly different from how much of contemporary liberalism looks at ordinary citizens. In the eyes of contemporary liberalism everyday Americans need the firm guidance of their liberal betters lest they make poor choices or, through their choices, produce results liberals dislike, such as unbridled commerce or economic disparity.

Americans, say liberals, cannot be left to their own devices. So it is entertaining to watch a locality where such an ideology defines the political center – Fairfax is a bedroom community for federal bureaucrats – chafe under the very sort of paternalism it otherwise endorses.

There's a lesson in that. Even people who benefit from big government love it less when they have to live under it.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this article originally appeared.