'Where we'd have the Haves and the Have-nots'

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted November 6, 2000

Candidate endorsement interviews at the Las Vegas Review-Journal are a tag-team affair. As my partner this year I drew political columnist Steve Sebelius.

It's been years since we allowed ourselves to be surprised by the lack of any clear-cut political or economic philosophy among the main body of candidates who come trooping through. Most of these souls can't even imagine why anyone would want one, attempting to spin their lack of any moral or philosophical rudder into an asset, insisting it's better to "judge each matter on its merits as it comes along" than to be "doctrinaire" or captive to any "hidebound ideology" ... as though the shipping line would be more likely to hire a captain who, instead of avoiding rocks as a matter of principle in a dull and plodding way, made a fresh decision each morning whether to risk the lee shoals, depending on whether the first lobbyist to get to him that day managed to present that course of action as "moderate" and "reasonable" and "well-received by our focus groups."

Republican Assemblyman Dennis NolanOct. 4 was a good day. First in the door was incumbent Republican Assemblyman Dennis Nolan, whose daytime job sees him supervising the administration of drug-testing programs to 30 different transit systems.

Mr. Nolan, a Republican who believes the salaries of state bureaucrats are too low, thinks state government "runs pretty tight" in delivering its services, and can't imagine anyplace where the state payroll could be cut.

"You keep using the word 'services,' " I noted. "If I wait in line down at the DMV and someone finally takes my money to register my car, they're rendering me a 'service,' is that right?"

"That's absolutely right," responded the neatly coiffed, diminutive lawmaker.

Advised that Mr. Nolan believes the War on Drugs can still be won, Mr. Sebelius asked how we're going to keep drugs off the streets, if we can't even keep them out of the prisons.

"I think we can keep drugs out of the prisons" Mr. Nolan responded. "You have personnel bringing them in."

The answer is to institute random drug testing for corrections officers, as well as for the prisoners themselves, Mr. Nolan says. Also -- since "People object; it doesn't look good" to have over-eager police dogs knocking over small children in the prison waiting rooms, the new electronic "sniffing" wands should be used to check visitors for drugs, including the tiniest tots.

"Sometimes they sneak the drugs in in the babies' bibs, or the women hide them in a balloon in their mouths and then pass them to the prisoner in a kiss," Mr. Nolan explains, his eyes widening with enthusiasm as he warmed to his subject.

"But how are you going to punish prisoners when you catch them with drugs?" asked Mr. Sebelius. 'I mean, they're already in jail, right? What are you going to do, put them in 'jail' jail?"

"You have to find some way to discipline them, there's no doubt about it," replied Mr. Nolan, enthusiastically.

What about the schools, I asked. Should the new electronic sniffer technology be used to randomly sweep our schoolchildren and their lockers?

"No," Mr. Nolan replied. However, "One of the states -- I can't remember which one right now -- has adopted a voluntary 'no drugs' contract from the fourth grade on; both the kids and their parents sign this contract, and in the contract they volunteer for random drug testing. ... I think that's a good idea, it's a great program, because if they don't sign then they can't participate in computer labs and after-school activities and so forth."

So the kids, already dragooned under threat of jail for mom and dad if they don't report to the mandatory government propaganda camp nearest them, now further see their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure neatly sidestepped as they're requested to "voluntarily" sign please-take-my-pee "contracts," with those who refuse to sign being sent home in ignominy while other kids get to go on field trips and play soccer after school and act in the school play.

Sounds plenty "voluntary" to me. After all, it's not as though little kids tend to ridicule and ostracize anyone who won't go along with the program. Surely no little kid is ever going to be asked why his parents are the only ones who refuse to "volunteer" him for the pee tests, unless, of course, they're ... on drugs, or something.

No sooner had we sent Mr. Nolan on his merry way, than Democrat Terrie Stanfill showed up to fill our door. Ms. Stanfill -- recruited by the capital Democrats to challenge Ray Rawson, a solid and hard-working state senator, though not exactly Mr. Showbiz -- got off to a fast start, waxing enthusiastic about the many wonderful things she hopes to accomplish up in Carson City with all our tax money, from college scholarships for poor children to visiting nurses for the infirm. The casinos "probably need to be taxed more" -- though perhaps not as much as an additional 5 percent, right now -- and no one should be allowed to escape from paying "their fair share," she insisted.

"So no one should get out of paying for the public schools?" even if they spend their own money to send their kids to private schools, asked Mr. Sebelius.

"No, because then we'd have the Haves and the Have-nots; if we take money away from the public schools things would be worse."

"What is the purpose of state government?" I asked Ms. Stanfill.

"To be sure we're doing what the people are wanting, running the state business, that we're introducing laws that should be voted on by the people," she replied. "You're there for the people; at the state level you're introducing the bills."

Not a sentence, not a word (needless to say) about just governments being instituted among men to secure for us our God-given rights and liberties.

"Are there any things that the state Legislature might like to do, that it can't do?" I asked.

"I'm not sure I'm understanding your question," Ms. Stanfill replied.

"Are there any matters in which the state lawmakers might think it was a good idea to get involved, but where they're not allowed to?" I tried again.

"I'm not sure I'm understanding the question," she repeated.

Mr. Sebelius tried his hand at translating for me.

"Let's say a constituent went to a lawmaker, and wanted him to, say, outlaw machine guns in Nevada, but the lawmaker said, 'Gee, I've looked at the list of powers granted to us by the state Constitution, and while I agree that's a good idea, I just don't find that we have any delegated power to do that.' What would you think about a lawmaker who said that?"

"Oh, that would be a cop-out," replied the state senate candidate.

I do not mean to imply that, when these candidates go home after a hard day knocking on doors and promising everyone a share of my purloined paycheck, Mr. Nolan changes into tall shiny boots and a sharply creased black uniform with silver skulls on the collar, nor that Ms. Stanfill secretly sneaks out late at night to attend Communist cell meetings.

I'm sure most of their neighbors would testify these are both fine folk who love their children and are always willing to bring cookies to the bake sale.

But so too were the faceless clerks and functionaries who kept the trains running on time in Italy and Germany in the 1930s, pleasant and uncomplicated folk who loved their dogs and brought flowers to church on Sunday. They did their jobs, and never gave a thought to which trains were headed where, or who had been loaded aboard.

Because, after all, they didn't mean any harm. Obscure, theoretical notions like governments of limited power, or the endowment of the People with certain inalienable rights -- among them the right to keep what we earn -- were best left to the eggheads up at the university. These were not the concerns of the kind of practical folks who merely wanted to make sure no one was ever allowed to decide what substances to put into his or her own body, while guarding against anyone who would dare "take any money from the public schools," lest the nation find itself in a situation "where we'd have the Haves and the Have-nots."

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and editor of Financial Privacy Report (subscribe by calling Norton at 612-895-8757.) His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site http://www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html.

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