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Big government Republicans and private property rights

By Scott Tibbs, August 19, 2011

In an era where Republicans are re-energized by limited government ideology, why are Republicans in the Indiana Legislature even considering a statewide smoking ban?

Last November, the Tea Party movement energized conservatives with the message that we need government out of our lives and out of our wallets. This surge of conservative ideology resulted in Republican gains across the ballot, from the federal level (where the Republicans won 60 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and a handful of seats in the U.S. Senate) to the state level, where Republicans gained several hundred seats in state legislatures.

We saw the impact of this conservative ascendency in Indiana. In the aftermath of 2010, Republicans control 60 of 100 seats in the Indiana House and 37 of 50 seats in the Indiana Senate to go along with the Republican governor elected two years earlier with a huge majority of the vote.

So with the Republican gains brought about by Tea Party conservatives to the point that we have supermajorities in both houses, why is it possible that we could see a significant expansion in state government that restricts the freedom to run a business as the owner chooses, individual choices of customers and private property rights?

Welcome to the Bubble Wrap Caucus, circa 2011. Mitch Daniels said last weekend that (despite supermajorities of what should be the party of limited government in both chambers) we could see a statewide ban on smoking in "public places" pass in the 2012 legislative session. Democrat Charlie Brown of Gary promised to introduce it again next session, after it failed this year due to being bogged down by exceptions.

Is this really necessary, given that we are seeing businesses voluntarily ban smoking to draw in more nonsmoking customers? More importantly, does the Republican Party really want to be identified as the party that tells businesses they may not allow a customer to choose to use a legal product on their property? Does the conservative party really want to be micromanaging how Hoosier businesses are run, even in this small way?

This is simply wrong. Government should respect private property rights and the choice of business owners to operate their business as they see fit. The dangers of smoking are well known by now, so people can freely choose to avoid patronizing (or working for) an establishment that permits smoking. If this ban were passed a decade ago, when a Democrat was governor and when Democrats controlled the House, this would have been bad enough. But for this to pass under Republican super-majorities adds insult to injury.

The message of 2010 could not be clearer: Leave us alone. Did Hoosier Republicans miss that memo?