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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 3, 2003 14 years ago

Democracy Gone Awry

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New constitutional initiatives being considered for the 2004 ballet pose a threat to state employers.It's obvious too many people don't understand what a right is and isn't. Here's what a "right" does: A right confers no obligation on another. Afforda

Democracy Gone Awry

"Democracy is a form of worship. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses."

- H.L. Mencken

When Leon Cassels, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, visited recently, he pulled out an 11-page, blue-and-white coded printout outlining 52 citizen-initiated amendments that could end up on Florida's ballots about a year from now.

One look at the printout, and it set the tone of the meeting. It wasn't difficult to figure out where he was going to take this conversation. But before Cassels proceeded, it was fun to take a quick glance at some of the nutball initiatives we may be voting on in 2004. (To see the entire list, go to www.floridachamber.com.) Here's a sampling:

× Right to treatment and rehabilitation of nonviolent drug offenses;

× Lower voting age to 16;

× Comprehensive health care services for all persons;

× Right to affordable health insurance;

× Right to jobs and business opportunities;

× Require legislators to teach in public school four days a year.

And then it got scary - thinking about the IQs of Florida's voting masses and how they'll probably approve most of these measures. If we're dumb enough to put a ban on pig crates in our state constitution, there's no limit to ignorance here. Indeed, that may be Florida's greatest surplus.

The "right" to this, the "right" to that. It's obvious too many people don't understand what a right is and isn't. Here's what a "right" does: A right confers no obligation on another. Affordable health insurance is not a right. Guaranteed jobs are not a right. Drug treatment is not a right. Somebody must pay for all those things, which diminishes that somebody's right to his earnings.

All of the aforementioned was precisely why Cassels was visiting. And then he pulled out another sheet, entitled "Threats to Employers." With a diamond-shape in the middle of the page, the diagram listed four threats to all Florida employers:

× Personal injury trial lawyers;

× Environmental extremists;

× Union and liberal foundation funding;

× Fragmented business community.

And then Cassels focused on the heart of his call. The Florida chamber has begun a statewide blitz to businesses to raise $4 million as quickly as possible. This money is to be used in a Florida chamber campaign, called "Raise the Bar," intended to require a two-thirds vote of the electorate to pass a constitutional amendment (instead of the current simple majority). And it's to be used in the chamber's annual battles in Tallahassee against the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, the environmental wackos and the unions and heavily funded liberal foundations - all groups who see business and capitalism as the Evil Empire (or at least the "deep pockets" to fund their jury awards).

Cassels came to us for two obvious reasons. One was to seek the Review's help in spreading the word to business owners about the chamber's "Raise the Bar" and fund-raising efforts (see box on page 15). The other was to walk away with a check.

The former is easy to accommodate, as illustrated on these two pages. The two accompanying boxes provide some additional information about the constitutional citizen initiatives and how and who is participating in the chamber's fund-raising and lobbying.

Writing the check is more difficult. The chamber's causes - preserving Florida's constitution and beating back the chamber's acknowledged "threats to employers" - are worthy of support. (As an aside, make note that we don't cast all personal injury lawyers as anti-business parasites. Egregious negligence should be punished. But like all professions, the trial bar has its share of sleazy players, in particular those who have learned that jury trials often are not about justice; they're about picking the right jurors.)

To be sure, Environmentalistas and other socialistic organizations are succeeding in making it more and more difficult for businesses to go about their business. We're lucky in the newspaper business. We don't face near the regulatory stranglehold that, say, auto dealers, home builders, stock brokers or physicians encounter. And it's not just the regulations that get to you. It's the fact that these anti-business groups are fundamentally anti-freedom. With every law they succeed in passing, they take away someone's freedom.

So here's the dilemma in writing a check to the chamber. It contributes to and perpetuates one of the most distasteful and disdainful aspects of our socio-economic-political world - the pull peddlers the lobbyists government by and for the pressure groups.

Ayn Rand said of lobbying: "Since there is no such entity as 'the public,' since the public is merely a number of individuals, the idea that the 'public interest' supersedes private interests and rights, can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others. If so, then all men and all private groups have to fight to the death for the privilege of being regarded as "the 'public.' The government's policy has to swing like an erratic pendulum from group to group, hitting some and favoring others, at the whim of any given moment - and so grotesque a profession as lobbying (selling influence) becomes a full-time job."

In fact, we have degenerated to this because we have let our democracy become majority-mob rule over our private-life decisions. Noted economist Walter Williams put it this way: "Substituting democratic decision-making for what should be private decision-making is nothing less than tyranny dressed up." Some of our founding fathers weren't that keen on a pure democracy, either. Thomas Jefferson said, "The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society." Said James Madison: "democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property." For these reasons, among others, the Founding Fathers adopted the Bill of Rights as protection for the individual.

Now consider that proposed constitutional initiative requiring comprehensive health care for all. It would mandate that all Floridians participate in a state-run health system. Should majority rule force you to participate in such a system? Of course, not. But because we are evolving, like California, into a state of direct democracy and majority-mob rule, individual freedoms are being trampled, and individuals are becoming helpless minorities and slaves to the "pull peddlers" in Tallahassee, Washington and on down to the county and city commissions.

What to do? As a business organization that believes capitalism is the most compassionate and just politico-economic system, we know we need to defeat the enviro-kooks who want to stop all development; we need to defeat the trial lawyers who use business as big-payoff slot machines; and we need to defeat the spread of egalitarianism and socialism proffered by the unions and liberal foundations.

But while writing a check to the chamber is perpetuating government by pull-peddlers and special interests, it can also be viewed as a contribution to a defense fund: in defense of individual freedom. As the common refrain goes: Freedom isn't free.

FACTS ABOUT THE CONSTITUTIONAL INITIATIVES

× 52 active intiatives filed with the secretary of state

× 9 initiatives have some voter signatures

× 2 initiatives have sufficient number of signatures to be reviewed by the attorney general - "Right to treatment and rehabilitation of nonviolent drug offenses" and "Authorizing Miami-Dade and Broward County voters to approve slot machines in parimutuel facilities."

× Seven groups are sponsoring 27 initiatives. They include:

1) SAVE OUR STATE COMMITTEE

× Limiting Taxpayer Supported Social Services to Illegal Aliens

× Property Tax Exemption for School Choice

× Limiting Assessed Values and Taxes on Homestead Property

× Limiting Taxation by Non-Elected Persons

× Limiting Millage Tax Rates

2) PROTECT OUR CHILDREN

× Children's Right Not To Be Abused

× Children's Right Not To Be Molested

× Comprehensive Health Care Services For All Persons

3) PEOPLE'S CONSTITUTIONAL

AMENDMENT COMMITTEE

× Disposition of Certain Judicial Actions

× Truth and Justice in the Courts

× Tax Foreclosures on Homesteads of Elder Prohibited

× Right to Affordable Health Insurance

× False Representations in Documents Related to Persons and Property

× Judicial Elections and Duties

4) FLORIDIANS FOR PATIENT

PROTECTION (Trial Lawyers)

× Requiring Insurance Companies to be Subject to Florida Antitrust Laws

× Requiring New Standards for Insurance Rating

× Patients' Right to Know About Adverse Medical Incidents

× Patients' Right to Sue "Managed Care" Organizations, Like HMOs, for Unfair or Deceptive Practices

× Protecting Rights of Abused or Neglected Nursing Home Residents

× Public Protection Repeated Medical Malpractice

5) SAVE OUR SCHOOLS

× Replacing District School Boards with Parental Governing Councils with State Administrative Oversight

× Replacing School Boards with Parental Governing Councils With State Administrative Oversight

6) HOME RULE COMMITTEE

× Voter Control of City Taxes

× Voter Control of City Taxes

7) COMMITTEE FOR

CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEES

× Right to Prompt Medical Service Payment

× Right to Safe Medical Care

× Patient's Right to Sue for Damages, Injury, or Death

FLORIDA CHAMBER'S 'RAISING THE BAR' CAMPAIGN

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has embarked on a $4 million fund-raising campaign to adopt in the state constitution a two-thirds vote requirement to pass a constitutional amendment instead of a simple majority.

The chamber is also raising funds for its annual legislative battles against personal injury trial lawyers, environmental extremists and union and liberal foundations.

Businesses are being recruited and asked to contribute at various levels:

× Cornerstone members - $25,000 or more per year.

× Advocate members - $10,000 to $25,000 per year. The Cornerstone and Advocate members serve on the chamber's board of governors and are invited to three meetings a year where key issues are discussed in detail with members and policy experts.

× Chairman's Council - $3,000 to $10,000 contributors. (The chamber also has a contributor's level for $1,000 to $3,000.)

× Brasstops - The chamber wants to identify key business people around the state who have instant access to officials in the highest levels of state government.

× Grasstops - The chamber seeks 10 people in each legislative district to contact legislators at a moment's notice to argue the chamber's positions on key issues.

For information, call Mark Wilson, 850-521-1209; or 850-521-1200.

CORNERSTONE MEMBERS

AutoNation Inc.

AvMed Health Plan

Bank of America

BellSouth

Blue Cross & Blue Shield/Fl.

Buchanan Automotive Group

Citigroup Inc.

CNL Realty and Development

CSX Transportation

Darden Restaurants

Florida Power & Light Co.

Gulf Power

Holland & Knight LLP

Humana Inc.

Lockheed Martin

OutbackSteakhouse of Florida Inc.

Progress Energy

Ryder System Inc.

Sprint

SunTrust Bank, Tampa Bay

Tropicana Products Inc.

Verizon

Wachovia Bank

Walt Disney Attractions Inc.

Walter Industries Inc.

ADVOCATE

MEMBERS

AAA Auto Club South

Accenture

ACS

Agere Systems

Allstate Insurance Co.

Amelia Island Plantation

American Ventures

AmSouth Bank

AT&T

Bacardi USA Inc.

Baskerville Donovan Inc.

Bealls Inc

BECK

Berg Steel Pipe Corp.

The Bonita Bay Group

Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP

Burdines

Capital One Financial Corp.

Cargill Fertilizer

Carnival Corp.

Certegy Inc.

CF Industries, Inc.

CH2M Hill

Cingular Wireless

Citrus Health Network, Inc.

Comcast Cable

Compass Bank

Delta Air Lines, Inc.

Eckerd Youth Alternatives

Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Florida East Coast Industries

Florida Phosphate Council

Florida Hospital

Foley & Lardner

General Dynamics Ordnance & Tactical Systems

Gerdau AmeriSteel Corp.

The Ginn Co.

GrayHarris Law Firm

Greenberg Traurig

Gulfstream Natural Gas System

H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Ctr & Research Institute

Harcourt School Publishers

Health Management Associates Inc.

Hewlett-Packard Company

Hopping Green & Sams P.A.

IBM Corp.

Interstate Hotels & Resorts Co.

ITC

JM Family Enterprises, Inc.

Johnson Controls Inc.

Katz, Kutter, Alderman & Bryant, PA

KPMG LLP

LabCorp, Florida Division

Lakeland Electric

LTP Management

Marsh Inc.

Mears Transportation Group

Merrill Lynch Financial Data Services

Microsoft Corp.

Motorola

National Graphic Imaging

Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce

Orlando Regional Healthcare

PBS&J

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Princess Cruises

Prudential Financial

Publix Super Markets Inc.

Raymond James Financial

Regeneration Technologies

Reynolds, Smith and Hills

Ron Sellers & Associates

Rooms To Go

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

SouthTrust Bank, N.A.

Squire, Sanders & Dempsey

The St. Joe Co.

Steel Hector & Davis LLP

Swisher International, Inc.

Sypris Electronics

TECO Energy

Tetra Tech FW Environmental Engineering & Construction Co.

TIAA-CREF

Tire Kingdom

Tropical Sportwear International

Tupperware Corp.

Tyco International USA

Union Planters Bank NA

USAA

WCI Communities Inc.

William R. Hough & Co.

Winn-Dixie Stores Inc.

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