Today’s Courier Herald Column:
When people ask where I’m from, I usually say “Atlanta”. I wasn’t born or raised in Atlanta, but rather in the northern section of Fayette County Georgia, just South of Atlanta. It wasn’t Atlanta then, but was instead quite rural. Cows lived in pastures to the front, rear, and both sides of our home.
We didn’t have any cows. Over time, we had pigs, chickens, and rabbits. One of my uncles tried his hand at raising beagle puppies in the backyard. None of this was unusual, as all of the neighbors had animals of some sort.
Eventually, our rural corner of the earth became “Atlanta”, or at least its suburbs. Other folks moved in. First from places like College Park and Hapeville, and then from strange places like Michigan. They then proceeded to pass tougher and tougher zoning laws. Minimum lot sizes, restricted land uses, home size requirements, and leash laws became the standard as newcomers turned rural into a more urbanized environment.
Folks who claimed they had found the perfect place set about imposing new rules to try to turn perfection into the place from whence they had just come. This process was not unique to Fayette, but was repeated all over metro Atlanta as the region grew from roughly one million people to five times that number over my lifetime.
With the population growth has come the growth of government. New rules, regulations, and requirements were made to have everyone conform to what was perceived to help property values. These suburbs, populated by Georgia’s only identifiable groups of Republicans in the seventies and eighties, saw the power and scope of government creep into the everyday decisions of lives on a personal level that would have been thought unfathomable and unacceptable if proposed at a national level. Somehow, when proposed by neighbors, intrusions into personal property rights were branded as acceptable and even “Republican”.
Growing up, I listened to Neil Boortz a lot. He’s been on Atlanta radio my entire life. As such, I have heard his axiom about government power enough times that it is somewhat internalized. Government decisions should not be made unless you would be willing to have the power granted to government exercised against your mother at gunpoint. If the price of compliance for a tax or regulation does not meet this threshold, then the policy does not rise to the need of something the government should be doing.
Roswell Georgia, about as far north of Atlanta as Fayetteville is to the South, was also once rural like my native Fayette County. Andrew Wordes believed it still should be, and had a long running battle with the city over chickens he kept on his property. Neighbors did not take kindly to his raising of “livestock” in a residential area. His long running feud saw him jailed several times over his refusal to give up his chickens. Wordes blamed his incarcerations for falling behind on his mortgage payments, and his home went into foreclosure.
Monday, as marshals attempted to evict him from his home, he apparently poured gasoline throughout the property and blew the home up while Wordes remained inside. The “Roswell Chicken Man” lost his battle with Roswell and its zoning laws, as well as against his mortgage company. With the powers of the laws being enforced at the point of a gun, Wordes decided the final battle over his property rights would still be settled on his own terms.
This battle should not have ended this way. This really isn’t in question. The question remains, however, at what point should this battle have begun? Roswell’s position is not unique. Cobb County and Chatham County have had similar issues with chickens in residential areas publicized during the past year. At some point, however, someone must ask “Is keeping chickens in their proper place worth exercising the power of government at the point of a gun?”
As we are often reminded, Georgia is now a state with a super-majority of Republicans. Republicans, we are told, are the party of limited government. Yet government continues to grow, and control the most basic elements of what we can and can’t do with our property and ourselves.
How trivial are the levels to which we will try to regulate and micro-manage each other’s lives? Republicans in the state legislature will spend part of the final days of this legislative session debating if music therapists in Georgia must be licensed. After all, you can imagine the damage that can be done if someone practices music therapy without the state’s oversight.
There was a time when Republicans believed that government didn’t have all the answers. Neighbors used to have to learn how to live with their fellow neighbors. Now, we’re willing to call upon the government to stop neighbors from producing farm fresh eggs or to make sure that the 100 people currently calling themselves “music therapists” get permission to continue to do so from the state.
The Fayette County I grew up in is long since lost to those who changed it to suit what they thought it should be. The Republican party of limited government appears equally lost to those who see the power of government and wish to use it to control others to be what they want them to be.