Friday, December 5, 2014

Nanny State Bull$#!&

From a political perspective, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman  - that still sounds weird - did the right thing when he “officially overturned a ban on the sale of sugary drinks and high-caloric snacks on county property and at events sponsored by the county,” (as originally reported by the illustrious Amanda Yeager of the Howard County Times).

The title refers to my reaction when I first heard about the proposed ban on such sales.   Now, I am not an expert on public health policy and Lord knows that all of my friends are Clean Living adherents, ingesting only the purest, quadruple-filtered H2O and the healthiest, organic, locally sourced free-range flaxseed.  

But I do know something about human behavior and how voters perceive, and react to, actual or potential laws and regulations.  The so-called “soda ban” was a classic example of Democratic over-reach.  It so easily fed into the infuriating but persistent narrative of Democrats imposing restrictions on what people can or cannot do with their hard-earned money because “we know best” (i.e., you can't be trusted to do the right thing, so we will deny you the opportunity to make such a decision).

Now, I sympathize with those who want to promote the consumption of healthier foods and beverages.  There are several avenues to bring about this end. 

First is by embracing a culture of healthier living.  When I got serious about getting into shape, I switched from pop to water and greatly curtailed eating “junk” snacks.  Real food with nutritional value tastes better and I have saved money in the process. I know this may be more of a challenge for families with children and/or those with tighter budgets or less time to explore different food and beverage options, but I believe greater mindfulness regarding wellness practices combined with smart grocery shopping can help combat obesity and related diseases - and far more effectively than the now defunct ban. 

Another way is by purchasing healthier options from vendors who are peddling their wares on county property and/or at county-sponsored events.  The market will react to changes in buying patterns. If Frescas don’t sell, they are less likely to be carried. Space is everything for such merchants.  If water or fruit juices move, they will stock those items instead of sodas.

And the soda ban was so memorable too.  Such an easy thing to run against.  Subtext: "Can you believe those arrogant, know-it-all, pointy-headed jerks?  They don’t even want you to quench your thirst on a hot August day with a good old American Coca-Cola because they know best.  How out-of-touch are these folks?" 

I know I have some friends who think differently on this subject.  Was his decision good public policy?  That can be debated.  But this article is on the politics of the matter, and on that point, given where the electorate is, Kittleman made the best move available.

On another note, and perhaps the topic for another post, I think Kittleman’s emphasis on “trust” as a key factor in his hiring decisions is being applied in a way that will cause short and long term problems for the County and its residents.  There are some smart, talented people who are being pushed out.  Is it because of their well-known service with Ken Ulman? Affiliation with the Democratic Party?  I was not present when these personnel decisions were being made, so I have no idea what is in the hearts and minds of the “deciders” beyond their public pronouncements.  That said, the new Administration is asking several individuals with a great deal of valuable knowledge and institutional memory - and exemplary records as public servants - to move along and that isn’t sitting well with this writer.  The Kittleman folks need to have some outsiders at the table.  We see that in the U.S. Cabinet and the County Government should be no different. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

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