Absentee voting has already begun in Virginia. This year, a voter must have one of a proscribed list of reasons in order to vote absentee. Next year, due to action this year by the General Assembly, anyone can vote by absentee ballot – by mail or in person at their local Registrar’s Office – without having to offer any reason at all. The law change is designed to help more people vote. We Republicans need to be as proactive in using the new law as the Democrats will no doubt be.
Because I will be serving as an election official on November 5, I already cast my absentee ballot. I noticed something on this year’s ballot that brought back memories. In 2011 my son was working a polling place for Tom Garrett’s first run for state senate. Also on the ballot was a man running for a seat on our local Soil and Water Conservation District board. One of my son’s friends called him and told him that because there were two seats available from Lynchburg and only one candidate was running, the friend had written my son’s name on the ballot. Long story short, my son ran and won a very brief (six hour) campaign for a seat on the Soil and Water Conservation District Board. He won with just 35 write-in votes. This story came to mind because on this year’s ballot in Lynchburg, no one is running for either of Lynchburg’s allotted positions on the Board.
But this email is not about having someone fill a slot on some unknown board. Virginia’s 47 Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) have a lot of power. They were established in the 1930s to “develop comprehensive programs and plans to conserve soil resources, control and prevent soil erosion, prevent floods and conserve, develop, utilize and dispose water.” Since the 1980s the SWCDs have also worked to control and prevent water pollution. These are all worthy goals from a long distance view, but things become much more personal if you are a farmer or a real estate developer, among others.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the SWCDs expanded rapidly, adding staff and layers of bureaucracy. And the least efficient way to accomplish almost anything is through governmental bureaucracy. Further, Virginia law allows SWCDs (and their overseer, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation) to use taxpayer money to hire lobbyists to encourage lawmakers to give them even more staff and authority.
Unfortunately, not all SWCD board members use common sense. While my son was serving, his SWCD told a local farmer that he had to build a large shed to hold the manure his animals created until such time as he could properly dispose of it. Then he had to petition the board for permission to park a tractor in the shed whenever the shed was empty. The board planned to deny that permission.
Now think about this. A government agency not only forces a private citizen to spend his own money on a structure that they demand he build, but then they tell him what he can and can’t do with the structure he now owns on his own property. My son could not prevent them from forcing the man to shell out his own funds for the shed, but he was able to persuade them to allow the farmer to park a tractor in the shed when the shed wasn’t otherwise in use.
As my son would say, it’s all about people’s property rights. There are a number of things that people can do voluntarily to improve the water, conserve the soil, and avoid pollution. And most farmers will do those things because it makes good sense in the long term to preserve the quality of their land. Farmers – most property owners – know their land far better than the government does, so they have a better idea of what is needed.
The point though is not that we need to let property owners do whatever they want to with their land. The point is that we need quality, conservative-minded, common sense individuals to serve on the boards that are charged with overseeing the details of our lives. We all well know that liberals love heavy handed government control of everything, while conservatives believe that the best government is the one that governs least. Virginia needs to have as many conservatives as possible in these unsung positions simply because they do have so much power in the everyday lives of so many people.
Contact your Registrar, ask how many SWCD seats are up for election in your area and how many candidates are running for those seats. If a seat has no candidate, don’t let your local government appoint a crony. Find a candidate (or be a candidate), put out the word to your local GOP committee and to your friends to write in that candidate’s name, and when your candidate wins, know that at least thata little part of Virginia is safer than it was.
Steve “Doc” Troxel, Ph.D.