Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Smoking ban: snuffed out?

County Executive James Robey's proposed smoking ban may have just gone up in smoke (shameless, I know):

A new majority coalition of three Howard County Council members favors a law that would allow smoking to continue in restaurants and bars that now allow it until those businesses change hands but prohibit smoking in new establishments.

The council's two Republicans and east Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes appear united on the five-member council in feeling that a total ban is unfair to business owners and smokers.

It is the latest twist in the council's political maneuvering over the smoking issue, which prompted two executive vetoes a dozen years ago, before the current law allowing smoking in separately ventilated areas was approved.

As I said before, I don't really have a dog in this fight, so my take on this latest development is on the politics, not the substance, of the matter. I don't think this bill is important enough to sway a significant number of voters toward or away from any particular candidate, but there are some interesting things worth pointing out in the above-linked story. For instance:

But Robey's bill faces strong opposition from the council's two Republicans and Rakes, who as a candidate in 2002 pledged to support a no-smoking ban.
This point has been mentioned in pretty much every article about the ban, as if it comes as a surprise that a politician is reneging on a campaign promise. In the case of David Rakes, consistency would be more surprising than inconsistency.

On then to another political point:

"Allowing smoking in a restaurant is a bad business decision," Merdon said. "But we allow choice. The government shouldn't come and tell you, 'We want to tell you how to run your business.'"

Unlike Rakes, Merdon is Mr. Consistent, insofar as he consistently plays both sides of the field. He is the quintessential have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too politician. In the same breath where he admonishes restaurants that allow smoking--going so far as to say it is the wrong way to run a business--he continues by saying government shouldn't tell anyone how to run a business. Isn't that kind of what he just did? Granted, he doesn't have a team of angry bureaucrats toting checklists, citations and pages of regulations, but he said from his position of authority, as a councilman, that he knows the right way to run a restaurant. What ever happened to letting the markets decide what's best for business? I guess Merdon gets by on a technicality.

In all seriousness, though, Merdon's playing the game well. He's showing his support for the business community, while still adhering to the politically-correct anti-smoking line. Time will tell if his hedged bet pays off, or if the unqualified commitment of his political rivals to banning smoking is more successful.

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