Mark Haslett's Blog
11:49 am
Fri February 15, 2013

Development, where ideology meets pragmatism

In Northeast Texas, the proposed Blacklands Turnpike resembles any other development project in that it has business leaders excited and affected landowners angry.

The fact that the proposed venture is a public-private partnership adds another angle. Many people like the idea of private industry footing the bill for a public project. But others don’t like government parceling out the decision-making duties of democracy to people who aren’t directly accountable to voters.

We’ll do our best here at KETR to tell the story as it unfolds and de-mystify the confusing intersection between public and private that such projects create.

The fascinating thing about development issues is that they don’t break down along the usual, weary political battle lines.

Voters in Hunt and Collin counties mostly identify as conservative, but there’s no “conservative” position on something like a new toll road.

Old-school conservatives with a commitment to individual liberty tend to oppose any project haunted by the specter of eminent domain. One’s land is one’s land, they say, and the government has no right to forcibly buy someone out.

But, as Calvin Coolidge pointed out, “the chief business of the American people is business.”

Neo-conservatives take a friendlier attitude toward development. They reason that economic well-being is the foundation of a healthy community and that sometimes, a new development project is the best option compared to the alternatives.

Liberals are often divided on development issues as well.

Contrary to stereotype, not all liberals have a mystical faith in the infallibility of top-down solutions. Liberalism has a strong current favoring the little guy against the big guy. And most liberals become suspicious the second a private corporation starts signing deals with the government.

Not in my back yard? Make way for progress?

One view satisfies the ideologist, the other satisfies the pragmatist. And since people are usually a little of both, development issues can be tough ones to call.

Last Sunday, I was listening to The Thomas Jefferson Hour (episode 1011) and the discussion examined Jefferson’s thinking in agreeing to make the Louisiana Purchase.

The event was unexpected. France at the time was ruled by Napoleon, whose imperial adventures in Europe jeopardized French holdings in the New World. France was too busy waging war in Europe to focus its resources on French North America.

Jefferson, worried about keeping the Mississippi River open to commerce, sent an envoy to Paris to see about acquiring New Orleans. Napoleon, knowing that the English navy would likely capture New Orleans in the coming war if he didn’t sell it to the United States first, was willing to talk.

In fact, Napoleon was ready to sell all of the Louisiana Territory. France needed the money to pay for war in Europe. Jefferson soon received the shocking news that, for three cents an acre, he could buy the heart of the continent. France's holdings stretched from the Gulf of Mexico through the Great Plains to the Rockies.

With one stroke of his pen, Jefferson could double the size of the country and effectively guarantee the security and success of the United States – which was hardly a given matter in 1803.

But there was a problem. Jefferson was a strict constructionist on Constitutional matters. In Jefferson’s view, the federal government did not really have the authority to make such a vast purchase on behalf of the states. There was nothing in the Constitution that suggested the federal government had that power.

We know what happened. Jefferson violated his own principles and signed the purchase.

The Federalists called him a hypocrite. Others called him a genius.

And so he was.