Friday, January 26, 2007


The local news reports on a new proposal for a statewide smoking ban, and the proposers include GOP Rep. Dan Serverson of Sauk Rapids.

It would outlaw smoking in indoor workplaces and public transportation. They said it's an issue of workplace safety, nonsmokers' rights and public health.

"I believe it's the right thing to do," said Severson, who supported a similar bill two years ago.

In the past 10 years, there has been a "consistently steady move toward a smoke-free environment," he said, "because we know it's healthy and because the public overwhelmingly supports it."

Smoking opponents made their last run at a statewide smoking ban in 2005, when the House Commerce committee killed the bill.

Debate centered on how far to extend smoking restrictions, and one panel supported a scaled-back ban that wouldn't hit bars and American Legion posts.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's spokesman, Brian McClung, said in an e-mail that the governor supports a statewide smoking ban but would prefer that it contain an exemption for private clubs such as VFWs.

My objection to the logic of Pawlenty and Severson's position is that any bar is in a sense a private club. You're just fussing over the membership rules. But I admit to being quite disappointed with Rep. Severson's response to the challenge that smoking bans violate personal rights:
"The most important part, though, I think we need to understand is 20 percent smoke. Eighty percent don't," Severson said. "That 80 percent has to have a voice in this personal rights issue as well. When that smoke impinges upon our ability to breathe without our consent, that impinges upon our rights as individuals as well."
Personal or individual rights do not need protection if they are being done by a majority or even a supermajority. The purpose of claiming something as a right is that it is something not subject to majority rule. A right is a restriction on the power of government. Severson's explanation says that 80% of the public can run over the right of barowners to their property or the 20% of the public that smokes who enter into contracts with bar owners by buying a drink and asking for and receiving an ashtray.

(Note: I am not a smoker save for the occasional, open-air cigar. I felt like I was choking in the smoke outside the conference room in Yerevan when I was there two weekends ago, but I understood the rights allocation to be different there, just as I do when I walk into bars. I have, in short, invited myself to the nuisance, and cannot both receive the benefit of a bar being in that place because of the business it receives from smokers, and the benefit of kicking out those smokers.)

This is drawing many comments and much ire from conservatives on the Times chat, including this post:
Sorry to say I supported Dan in both elections. My vote, my money, my time making contacts. But he has knuckled under to the radicals and is willing to take the freedom away from the business owner to operate his livelihood as he sees fit. And he claims to be a Republican, a party against big government. Well, Dan, goodbye. No more money or support.
I don't know as I'd go that far. It is a much smaller issue to me that a Republican supports a statewide ban on smoking than, say, passing sense of the Senate resolutions opposing administration policy in Iraq. But it is symptomatic of what Paul Mirengoff discusses in reviewing a lunch speech by Judge Janice Rogers Brown, "that erosion of our freedoms and, more importantly, the philosophic underpinnings of these freedoms, have caused a critical mass of the body politic to become too comfortable with the 'parasitic state.'"

Yet it seems that local barowners are capitulating to the predation of a tyrranical majority: Many reports include a line that says they will accept a statewide ban as preferable to a city-by-city ban. (Barowners in Duluth and Moorhead might have a different view of this.) Resistance is futile. And so Leviathan marches on, and Republicans seem willing to join arms with Democrats on the parade. If the barowners will not protect themselves, they get the government they deserve.