Friday, December 07, 2007

HOAs? Friend or Foe?

I've written two opinion columns that touched on HOAs. The first was "HOAs as good as those who serve", from November 30, 2006:

Most people have a negative opinion of neighborhood Homeowner Associations (HOAs). There are plenty of horror stories about HOA actions, from banning American flags, to shutting down a child's lemonade stand, to fining a homeowner for planting too many roses.

But that doesn't mean I object to the idea of HOAs. Stories like this paint an unfair picture of homeowners associations, and obscure the valid reasons for their existence. And in most cases, the problem isn't the associations, but the people elected to run them, people elected because the membership doesn't bother to show up to serve or even to vote.

HOAs are an example of good government, putting the power and the control of government at the lowest possible level, within communities of a few hundred to a few thousand people. The key is to have well-defined limits over the power of an HOA. Virginia has good laws setting limits on the power of HOAs, and each association is also limited by its own deeds and covenants.

Within those limits, HOAs let communities decide their own rules. Prince William is a county of over 350,000 people. Why should one set of rules govern all 350,000 of us? HOAs allow each of us to choose how we want to live, and to peacefully co-exist with like-minded individuals.

For example, my neighborhood has rules that are relatively permissive. We can have TV antennas on the roof, and air conditioning units in windows, but we can't park cars and boats on the grass. We must get approval for color and architectural changes, but our elected representatives are reasonable people. We need an HOA anyway to manage our community pool and community property.

Just as I'm happy to live in Virginia, and not Maryland, and to live in Prince William, and not Alexandria, I'm glad I can choose a community that imposes restrictions I agree with, but not a bunch of silly rules that I would find abhorrent.

We all tolerate some level of "community" control over our lives, in exchange for "common good." That is the purpose of federal, state, and local government. We give up some freedom because we don't want every person to do whatever they want. This is in keeping with the ideals of our founding fathers. An HOA provides certain "community" services, and has the limited power to tax the citizens of the community for that purpose. Community members democratically elect board members, and the HOA has a "constitution" (deeds and covenants) that limits and defines its power.

But like any government, it will only be as good as the people elected to run it. If you don't vote, you might end up with a board that bans Christmas wreaths. And if you won't serve, and don't attend meetings to express your opinions, those who will serve can't represent your opinions. So, attend your HOA annual meeting this year.

The second was the column "People Behaving Badly", from May 3rd of this year. I just briefly mentioned that my HOA had sent me a nice letter telling me they didn't like a dead tree in my yard:

That got me thinking about things other people do without any thought of others. While some people are simply selfish, most don't mean to be; they just don't realize what they are doing. For example, nobody told me they didn't like my tree; I found out when the Homeowners Association sent me a nice letter asking me to make it disappear.

I do not currently serve on the board. HOAs are like most government, they have good points and bad points, and the more power they wield, the worse they generally are. And certainly they prove the adage that power corrupts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards, Venus Flytrap

In a post over at Democratic Central Elizabeth Edwards -- Steel Magnolia, Mrs. Edwards is praised for her attack on Ann Coulter in a pre-arranged call-in on Hardball:

Right on, Elizabeth Edwards!

After Ann Coulter went on national television Monday morning expressing her wish that John Edwards would be assassinated, she appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews. It was a call-in show, and Elizabeth Edwards called in.

Oddly, Edwards is not praised for questioning Ann's "assassination" comment, which of course was just an example of how the media engages in selective outrage (Ann was simply noting that when she was being castigated for using the word "Faggot", Maher was given a pass after saying that he wished Dick Cheney had been killed in a terror attack).

Rather, Elisabeth chose to bring up a column Ann Coulter had written in 2003, which questioned the Democratic Presidential candidate field for using dead relatives as political props:

You wrote a column a couple of years ago which made fun of the moment of Charlie Dean's death, and suggested that my husband had a bumper sticker on the back of his car that said ask me about my dead son. This is not legitimate political dialogue.

Here is the original quote from the article by Coulter, The Party of Ideas:

At least when Gephardt exploits a family tragedy, he doesn't expect praise for not exploiting a family tragedy. John Edwards injects his son's fatal car accident into his campaign by demanding that everyone notice how he refuses to inject his son's fatal car accident into his campaign.

Edwards has talked about his son's death in a 1996 car accident on "Good Morning America," in dozens of profiles and in his new book. ("It was and is the most important fact of my life.") His 1998 Senate campaign ads featured film footage of Edwards at a learning lab he founded in honor of his son, titled "The Wade Edwards Learning Lab." He wears his son's Outward Bound pin on his suit lapel. He was going to wear it on his sleeve, until someone suggested that might be a little too "on the nose."

If you want points for not using your son's death politically, don't you have to take down all those "Ask me about my son's death in a horrific car accident" bumper stickers? Edwards is like a politician who keeps announcing that he will not use his opponent's criminal record for partisan political advantage. (I absolutely refuse to mention the name of my dearly beloved and recently departed son killed horribly in a car accident, which affected me deeply, to score cheap political points.

I wouldn't want John Edwards to be president, but I think even Karl Rove would be willing to stipulate that the death of a son is a terrible thing.

So as you can see, Ann never suggested he had an actual bumper sticker on his car. She was saying that believing a son's death was a tragedy was not a "democratic" position, and Edward's grief was not a defining aspect of his qualifications for the office of President.

But the more important question is, has Elisabeth looked in the mirror? I'm not sure whether there's much of a line anymore to cross when it comes to speaking about a public official running for a public office. But what about a public figure, say, Elisabeth Edwards, attacking a private citizen?:

Elizabeth Edwards says she is scared of the "rabid, rabid Republican" who owns property across the street from her Orange County home — and she doesn't want her kids going near the gun-toting neighbor.
The Edwards family has yet to meet Johnson in person. "I wouldn't be nice to him anyway," Edwards said in an interview.
Edwards views Johnson as a "rabid, rabid Republican" who refuses to clean up his "slummy" property just to spite her family, whose lavish 28,000-square-foot estate is nearby on 102 wooded acres.

So if criticizing a former Senator running for President for using his son's death as a political prop is not "legitimate political dialogue", what can we say about his wife calling her neighbor "rabid" and accusing him of purposely keeping a "slummy" property?

Not that her husband is free from hate speech. After all, he was recently caught saying "I hate Duke Basketball". Maybe Elisabeth should call the next talk show he appears on to ask him why he is using such inappropriate "political dialogue"?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I'm back again again again.

I guess I was depressed by the election. Naw, just had other things to do.