HARBESON: It’s time to go public with this
BY DEBBIE HARBESON Local Columnist
SELLERSBURG — Public relations campaigns play a very important role in maintaining the legitimacy and illusion of “good” government. Let’s look at a recent PR campaign by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and his people to see how it works. The campaign we’re going to study involves the two planned DNR projects to purchase land for conservation purposes.
Now, you would think a small-government politician would never brag about converting private property to government property. But such principles disappear quicker than a frightened copper belly water snake when a politician sees that he can use something to his advantage.
See, Daniels and his team are out promoting these bigger government projects (here and here) because they can use them to carefully mold a message. All you have to do is just look at the timing of this PR blast.
It’s the beginning of summer and you’re enjoying the outdoors. So when you see headlines about conserving forests and wetlands, they know you are likely to get a good feeling about your government and the politicians currently in charge.
The federal government is also involved in this and since it works for this particular PR purpose, Daniels is fine with it. That’s why one day you see him angry because the federal government is sticking its nose in his state’s health care business and the next day he’s happy because the feds want to help his state take over private property to ensure the health of a bunch of sweet gum trees. This is just more evidence that principles become an endangered species when a good political PR opportunity arises.
It’s not just about Daniels though. Other politicians see the opportunity in these types of PR campaigns. Democratic State Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin, also stepped into the promotional spotlight and said, “I have goose bumps today just thinking about what we’re doing.” Heck, he probably said goose bumps on purpose because it mentions waterfowl.
The implication in all of this is that land will not be conserved unless government is involved. And unfortunately existing private organizations can get sucked in and end up reinforcing such PR implications because they get so excited when their agendas are promoted and government money is spent in the ways they want it spent.
We see this in the comments by Mary McConnell, state director for The Nature Conservancy of Indiana. She said, “It’s exactly the kind of project we should be working on as a state.” So she says. But I doubt it’s true for a parent who’s concerned about her child’s school closing because of budget cuts.
Now, they know that some of us will see through the PR and have important questions about government acquiring private property so they made sure to mention that eminent domain would not be used.
However, I had more questions when Nick Heinzelman, director of land acquisition for the state Department of Natural Resources expanded on this in the Indianapolis Star, saying, “This will all come from voluntary sellers. Some will want to sell now; others may wait,” Heinzelman said. “Any land that comes up for sale, we’ll be there to buy it right away.”
What does that mean? What if a private citizen would also like to purchase the property? Will he have a chance or is there already some government provision that says the government is the only one allowed to purchase any land that comes up for sale that falls inside the border of this project? And what about future costs on upkeep, liability and usage control?
Even though this government PR campaign is intended to create the idea that government growth under the auspices of conservation is a cool way to start the summer, all it feels like to me is just more hot air.
— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson knows everything there is to know about hot air.