A few weeks ago, two very nice gentlemen, Mike Foote and Joe Miklosi, asked me to lunch to discuss the important issue of the national popular vote idea — a very significant issue for Colorado and our nation, and one that harkens back to our founding period. I promised both gents I’d get a column out on their ideas, and I surely will, soon, but not today.
Today, I’d rather discuss parking meters and drones, as one does when talking about the Founders and lunch.
One year ago today, Colorado Politics' Joey Bunch wrote about Denver’s parking problems. He began by writing about his reluctance to meet someone for lunch in downtown Denver. I felt his pain when I met Messrs. Foote and Miklosi in the downtown area. The restaurant they picked happily had its own parking garage, though at 11:45 am, I got the last spot in that structure. I’m quite sure I would have been late had I been forced to rely on street parking. In Colorado Springs, the parking meters in downtown just increased in cost and hours of operation, to include now charging for Sunday parking, changes not greeted with enthusiasm by too many folks. And if that were not enough, it appears that mysterious drones are flying around in northern Colorado. So, lots to talk about.
Always on the lookout for connections back to the Founders, those two recent stories — parking and drones — caused me to think about one of my favorite topics, federalism. If you search the Colorado Politics site for the terms “bidlack” and “federalism,” you’ll find roughly 50 columns in which I brought up the concept, which basically states that different levels of government (national, state, and local) all have various powers that no other level of government can change. Unlike “unitary” systems (think France) where the national government can basically overrule the actions of any lower-level government, systems embracing federalism, like ours, say that, for example, the feds can’t overrule a city’s parking ordinances, and the local folks can’t try to mint their own currency. There’s lots more to this, and if my kindly editor allows it, I’ll write about 5,000 more words on the subject. Or should I get to the drones?
OK, speaking of drones…
You may have seen the recent reporting on shadowy and secretive drones flying at night in northeastern Colorado. These mysterious aircraft seem to be flying in formation oft times, and it’s not entirely clear what the heck they are doing, or who is doing it. After lots of agencies denied having anything to do with it, it turns out, my old ICBM base, F.E. Warren AFB up in Cheyenne, happens to be the Air Force’s main location to practice counter-drone operations. And as Warren has a whole lot of ICBMs, deep under the plains of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska, it makes a lot of sense that any such counter-drone operations would be tested near the missile fields. They didn’t confirm or deny it, but they did seem to wink a bit when asked.
Which brings me to the key question, for both parking meters and drones: what the heck does the government get to do to us, and to what extent can the government impact our daily lives?
First, parking: I’m guessing that not too many of you believe that there should never be a parking meter. Public streets are, as we political science types like to say, a “common,” as in an area owned by all of us and regulated for our own good. Traffic lights are an example of regulating our “freedom,” as we’d be freer without them, but more of us would be maimed in traffic accidents. Similarly, with parking, if there were no meters, there would be folks that parked on the street all day, restricting anyone else’s ability to shop and support local businesses. So, are meters ok? And if so, what is the right amount to charge? These are local government questions, and your elected officials get to decide, and you vote them out (theoretically) if you differ.
The drones are a different matter. Few object to military aircraft flying training missions over their homes at, say, 30,000 feet. But what about at 300 feet? What are the limits, if any, of the government’s ability to conduct military training? If the military needs to be able to defend, say a missile field, against enemy drone operations, it must train for those situations, and that will involve “friendly” drones buzzing around.
And so, some of the very most important questions that vexed the Founders continue to challenge us today. How much government shall we allow? Federalism suggests there may be different answers at different levels of government. What do you think? In the meantime, please pardon our drones.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.