When I saw then HUD Secretary Steve Preston about two months ago, I got a lesson in the difficulties of being a real small government conservative. Preston began his speech by pronoucing that he believes in small governments. He then spent the next ten minutes rattling off a laundry list of policies that HUD implemented under his leadership, about six months in length, to help those in need. Preston, to me at least, believed in small government in theory only. The minute he had any power he used that power to expand the reach of his own office.
That encounter framed in my mind the difficulties of being a real small government conservative. It's easy to believe in small government when that belief is in theory. Once someone is in a position of power, small government conservatism means limiting one's own power. It also means that you limit your own reach to affect society. In theory, that maybe something many folks believe in, but in practice, that is no easy thing to do.
It is in that context that I introduce the latest chapter in the unfolding political career of Dennis Lennox. I first ran into Lennox when he was taking on the administration at the school he attends (and is currently finishing up classes at) Central Michigan University. CMU had hired Gary Peters to their prestigious Griffin Fellowship. At the same though, Peters decided to run for U.S. Congress in a district hundreds of miles away. Not only was this dual role filled with conflicts of interest but it created a situation in which a highly paid employee (the fellowship paid nearly a hundred grand yearly) couldn't commit themselves fully to the university. Lennox battled with the administration for the better part of two semesters until finally Peters and the administration gave in and Peters resigned the Griffin Fellowship.
Soon after, Lennox decided to make a run at the State House in his home district. This run was short lived when Lennox decided to run for Drain Commissioner in his home county of Cheboygan County in Michigan. He ran on a rather unique platform, he was running in order to get fired. He ran against a two time incumbent, John Pietrangelo, a Democrat. On the platform that the Drain Commissioner is a needless government position, Lennox ran in order to remove the office and have it be combined with other government offices. Despite going into a strong Democratic headwind, Lennox, a conservative, won a narrow victory.
Lennox believes that the Drain Commissioner is a useless position first and foremost because in the entire County of Cheboygan there is ZERO public drains. The position pays $500 yearly and with per diems has a yearly budget of about $5000. This modest salary and budget has everything to do with a lack of real oversight. In many other Michigan counties, the Drain Commissioner has a much larger budget but that's because they have drains to oversee and most importatnly to tax. In the County of Cheboygan, there is no such luxury because, as I have already said, there are no public drains. All of the duties could be done by current bureaucrats in the Department of Road Commissions. This is a multi million Dollar department in Cheboygan County. The extra duties would amount to a couple hours a week and they could be done without increasing the size of the current staff of bureaucrats.
From time to time, the Drain Commissioner in Cheboygan County has permits that need approval. Yet, this is largely a rubber stamping duty because these permits originate in other offices since, as I have said, there are no drains to oversee. As such, the office has no real duty. There has been no public drain in Cheboygan County since WWII.
Lennox' plan is three fold (or actually four fold). First, he needed to get elected. That, he did. Second, he needed to get the County Commissioners to recognize his plan. Just last week, the seven member County Commission voted in favor of a resolution to remove his office by a vote of 6 to 1. The first two parts are the easy part of the process, though.
Now, what Lennox needs to do is change the State Law. Under Public Act 40, the office of Drain Commissioner is mandated for any County with residents that number more than 12000 people. Cheboygan County numbers about three times that many. Now, Lennox is looking for the State Legislature to get on board and pass a law that changes that number to include counties as large as Sheboygan. This has been tried by the folks of Cheboygan County twice before, in 1955and 1956, but never with the full support of the Drain Commissioner themself.
Lennox' proposal has the support of two of the three legislators, Jason Allen and Kevin Elsenheimer, (members of both parties in fact) that serve Cheboygan County. Eliminating those political offices that are inefficient or unnecessary has the general support of the Governor herself. As such, Lennox hopes to help draft a new bill that will begin to make its way through the Michigan legislature. If and when that bill becomes law, the only thing left would be a referendum on the Cheboygan County to eliminate the post forever. This should be largely ceremonial since this is exactly what Lennox ran on.
So, in this environment of government increase through the stimulus, just keep in mind that real small government conservatism is tough, but not impossible...just ask Dennis Lennox.