Mayor Bill Wells – A Statesman Stands Alone

Mayor Bill Wells – A Statesman Stands Alone

As an East County resident and an active volunteer with the San Diego chapters of the Republican Liberty Caucus and Gun Owners of California, I watch the affairs of the El Cajon City Council pretty closely.  I was glad to be watching this past Tuesday as El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells stood alone in making one of the most forceful arguments for limited government that you are likely to encounter in municipal government.  At issue was a council resolution to support SB 151, a bill that recently cleared the state senate that would raise the legal age to purchase cigarettes to 21.

During the public commentary period of the council’s deliberations, fellow east county resident Eric Andersen commented that statesmen don’t cater to the popular whims of the times but rather “they look for a transcendent ethic, something absolute and unchanging when determining a just from an unjust ordinance.”  Mayor Wells stood alone as a statesman on Tuesday, pointing to the principle that a limited government shouldn’t be used to protect people from themselves, and admonishing his colleagues that by losing sight of their principles they risked endorsing some of the same arguments that have been used in other municipalities to limit gun rights, or ban soft drinks.

In my own public comments on Tuesday I asked the council to consider that we are almost exactly a year removed from the tragic death of Eric Garner in New York City. Mr. Garner was an unarmed father of 6, killed by New York law enforcement officers as they attempted to enforce New York’s prohibition on cigarette sales. New York’s prohibition was effectuated by taxation. The prohibition under consideration in California is age based discrimination. Different tactics – but similar costs. When you criminalize something you have to be prepared to kill to enforce it. When you criminalize something you have to be prepared to take liberty to enforce it. When you criminalize something you have to be prepared to raise taxes to support its enforcement. I urged the council to consider those costs alongside whatever benefits they anticipated from the measure.  I further asked the council that if after having weighed the costs against the benefits they still decided to vote yes, they should ask themselves why you stop at age 21? Why not 25? Why not 30? The only support for such a arbitrary age is that either a view of government as a paternalistic institution existing to protect young adults from their decisions, or we are engaged in pure age based discrimination against a group from whom there is no fear of political reprisal. Either motive is unconscionable.

Ultimately the measure passed 3-1 over Mayor Wells principled objections, but I will long remember the Mayor’s articulate and principled defense of liberty and limited government and was proud to lend my own voice in support.  His lonely vote of opposition stood alone in reflecting a transcendent ethic and unchanging principles of limited government.  A true statesman.

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