Friday, April 24, 2009

Pandering Politicians and Principles

On Wednesday I wrote about two local politicians--Anne Clutterbuck and Annise Parker--and their pandering to constituents. Both have expressed support for HB 3709, which will revoke some of the Texas Medical Center's (TMC) eminent domain powers. I concluded:
Like most politicians, Parker and Clutterbuck present themselves as principled individuals. In truth, they are devoid of political principles. They deal with each situation on a "case by case" basis and engage in verbal gymnastics to justify their hypocrisy. They will assail the property rights of one individual while feigning support for the property rights of another.

A reader responded to my post, pointing out:
The bill repeals ONLY the power to condemn single family homes, defined in a way that reflects the antiquated but still-prevailing development patterns of Houston's surviving pre-WWII neighborhoods.

In fact, there remains an unlimited supply of non-residential property adjacent to the north, east, south, and southwest of the Medical Center. All of the condemnations by TMC Inc since 1959 have been of business and commercial properties, so it is clearly incorrect to say the bill "strips most of its eminent domain powers."

I will stand corrected--I had written that the bill would strip "most" of the TMC's eminent domain powers. But whether it is "most" or "some" is not the point. Indeed, the situation is worse--both Clutterbuck and Parker are less principled--than I originally thought.

In a letter to the Chair of the Committee on Land and Resource Management, Parker expressed concern that TMC's eminent domain powers threatened "individual property rights". Parker is correct. But the property rights of commercial property owners are also threatened, and I haven't seen a peep out of Parker or Clutterbuck in regard to protecting those property owners.

If TMC's eminent domain powers are a threat to property rights, then those powers are a threat to the rights of all adjacent property owners, not just those with residential property. The truth is, despite any talk about creating jobs or improving our economy, politicians are willing to sacrifice other businesses to the city's largest employer. They are willing to allow TMC to condemn commercial property and close businesses.

This is nothing but political pandering. TMC undoubtedly has more political pull than the businesses threatened with condemnation. Similarly, the homeowners in the nearby neighborhoods form a voting bloc that dwarfs that of the business owners. So politicians can play to both TMC and the home owners, and the business owners become victims in these shenanigans.

A principled individual does not make distinctions on the basis of non-essentials. The use of a particular piece of property does not determine the rights of the owner. All individuals possess the same rights. In regard to property, ownership means the right of use and disposal--the right to use one's property as one chooses, so long as he respects the mutual rights of others.

But Parker and Clutterbuck believe that homeowners possess rights that are superior to commercial property owners. Both have opposed the Ashby High Rise (a commercial project) in favor of "protecting neighborhoods". Again, the homeowners have more political muscle than the developers of Ashby.

Pandering to homeowners has been a tactic used by Houston's politicians for decades. Politicians can show how much they care by vowing to "protect neighborhoods". They have promoted ordinance after ordinance as a means to "stabilize" the character of a neighborhood. They have even had the audacity to proclaim that their coercive tactics protect property rights, even as they violate the property rights of all Houstonians.

Such positions may help politicians win elections, as they exchange political favors for votes. They take the "easy" path, abandoning principles for political expediency.

Houston, and America, needs a new species of politician. We need politicians who hold rational principles and possess the integrity to uphold those principles, even when it means telling constituents "no". We need politicians who protect the rights of all individuals. We need politicians who do not regard individuals as pawns to be sacrificed to the "public welfare" or the "common good". And we will get such politicians when we, as individuals, embrace those ideals.

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