Fear and Loathing in Ham Lake

Ham Lake, MinnesotaOh boy…Don’t tell the mayor and city council of Ham Lake what to do because they’ve got rights, damn it!  Property rights!  And, besides, they’re all big and grown up and smart and don’t need no stinking Big Government lurking around their backyard…

Seriously, as a joke, someone might walk into Maxx Bar and ponder aloud:  “I wonder if Barack Obama is planning any military action around here.”  The huckleberries would fly out the door to protect hearth and home from their Bud Lite-soaked dystopian fantasies…

All right, I will stop.  I have lost any hope of winning over much thoughtful consideration from the good people of Ham Lake, but I really doubt there would be much hope to begin with.  It would go against what they call “culture” up there.

So let’s start again.

City officials in Ham Lake, Minnesota, oppose government efforts to incorporate the city in regional planning, invasive species monitoring and abatement, and improved public amenities, including sewer and water infrastructure.  Ham Lake Mayor Mike Van Kirk, calls this “jackbooted, stomp-on-your-property” behavior and he’ll take every chance he can to “protect the rights of landowners and their rights in general.”  He explains that “government should not be the obstacle.”

Good job, mayor.  We’re proud of you.

Property Rights -- Cyburbia GalleryBut what about the people who want sewers and clean water?  Perhaps some landowners don’t want oak wilt from your property drifting onto their property.  Maybe there is even a person or two in Ham Lake who thinks bike lanes on the city’s busy highways might make those roads safer for bicyclists and motorists alike.  Isn’t Ham Lake’s government an obstacle to getting those improvements done?

As you can tell, I am having a difficult time ignoring the silliness of the puffed-up stance taken by the mayor and the city council.  Obviously there is a serious side to this small government property rights movement that is being reported in the Star Tribune.

Some people fail to recognize that when they own a piece of land, they don’t own it forever.  Furthermore, they don’t really own it alone.  In most cases, people don’t own isolated islands, for example.  Their patch of dirt is part of a contiguous stretch of land — both public and private — owned by others.  So, for example, when one land owner opposes policies to fight a problem like oak wilt, that will have an effect on other landowners nearby.

Simply put, there are real problems that are better addressed through cooperation that are not accomplished by individualist posturing.  Even cowboys work together to bring in the herd.

And the problem of this small thinking goes further.  Van Kirk won’t live forever.  Or he might lose his land before goes off into the sunset…alone and on his own terms, I’m sure.  His piece of property belongs to the future as much as it belongs to him today.  Hell, his city belongs to the future as much as it belongs to him today.  It is entirely reasonable that he should see his responsibility to his land and his community this way, but he does not.  That’s why land — among other things — is regulated with laws set by the community and state.

I don’t want to go too far afield — I have gone far enough already — and I don’t really know Van Kirk’s politics in toto, but I will wonder aloud.  How might a small government man like Van Kirk feel about same sex marriage?  Shouldn’t a person have autonomy over his or her life choices as much as a landowner has control of land that is only his for as long as he owns a title to it?

Government — big or small — isn’t an obstacle.  Bad government is an obstacle.  And bad government starts with bad ideas and misguided or weak leadership.  It seems to me, we have an unqualified local government of misguided government in Ham Lake.  It isn’t a small government movement as much as it is a government of small ideas that is the risk there.


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