A New Government Agency I Can Support

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Kansas GOP gubernatorial candidate Sam Brownback is proposing an “Office of the Repealer,” tasked with seeking out bad or repetitive laws, wasteful programs, and archaic state agencies for elimination. As a general rule, the media venerates politicians who propose new government programs as bold and visionary, while anyone daring to suggest perhaps there might be cause to eliminate an agency or two is depicted as some fringe draconian nut. Or just quaint and silly.

True to form, New York Times reporter Monica Davey makes little attempt to hide her bemusement at Brownback’s idea, dismissing its positive reception among Kansas voters as “one more sign, perhaps, of the wave of grumpiness” sweeping the country. Not prudence or good governance or fiscal responsibility. Grumpiness.

I suppose we could just cast this off as one more example of silly Kansans being too stupid to know what’s good for them. But hold on. Davey also reports that—clutch the pearls!—the sentiment may not be limited to the Sunflower State:

In Missouri, lawmakers passed legislation this spring that repealed more than 200 sections of statutes, including some dusty ones pertaining to the regulation of steamboats, steam engines, pool halls and margarine. In Michigan, lawmakers did likewise, agreeing, for instance, to repeal statutes that had designated as crimes prizefighting and dueling.

God forbid we repeal laws regulating the operation of steam engines. Why, it would be like living in Somalia.

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43 Responses to “A New Government Agency I Can Support”

  1. #1 |  Matt D | 

    Well, I’m a liberal and I’ve oft thought we should have just such an agency. Good to see others are interested as well.

  2. #2 |  Thomas M. Hermann | 

    Just moved back to KS. I’ve been lukewarm to Senator Brownback in the past, but may have to give him a second look as the Gub.

    I’ve always wondered why there wasn’t such an agency to remove obsolete laws and statutes. The biggest motivation, aside from simplifying, is to remove the potential for abuse. There periodically seems to be some story about a prosecuting attorney that resorts to some antiquated law to ‘creatively’ convict someone. When you have enough laws on the books, they get applied selectively because they can’t be enforced in total. Then, in effect, you don’t have the rule of law, you have arbitrary law.

  3. #3 |  Pencils | 

    Dueling shouldn’t be a crime?

  4. #4 |  asg | 

    Separate from assault, murder, etc?

  5. #5 |  PTLindy | 

    Um . . . Laws and regulations regarding steam engines and boilers were enacted and are still enforced because prior to them engine explosions were far too commonplace. Managers in companies (RRs in particular) were notoriously cheap, rushed, and contemptuous of safety concerns.

    Because of business friendly gov’t over the decades, it usually required “dead bodies in the street” before these regs got passed.

    That being said, the idea of a Federal version of a useless agency/law/regulation removal agency sounds great.

  6. #6 |  Steamed McQueen | 

    The problem with any type of government agency that is charged with reducing waste or eliminating unnecessary agencies and laws is that if they were truly doing their job, eventually they would have to dissolve the very agency that they work for.

    And who is going to vote themselves out of a job? No one, that’s who.

  7. #7 |  Bob | 

    They thought of this in Kansas? KANSAS?


    This is the state that brought you the Westboro Baptist Church.

    I’m so confused.

  8. #8 |  Bob | 

    Yes! Missouri has finally repealed those god forsaken Steam Engine regulations!

    Now my army of Brass and Riveted Iron Steam Golems can operate in the open!

    Bu hu wu ha Ha HA HA!!!!

  9. #9 |  Ukko | 

    We don’t need a new agency. We need to require that each new law enacted must include the repeal of at least two other laws, and if the new law creates a new agency, at least two existing agencies must be eliminated.

  10. #10 |  croaker | 

    Could we be looking at the beginning of the great moratorium?


  11. #11 |  Charles Curran | 

    RR tried to get rid of the Dept of Education, we could try again, and add a few more.

  12. #12 |  qwints | 

    Great idea when Heinlein put it into “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” Great idea now.

  13. #13 |  KBCraig | 

    Seems to me that grumpiness is a one of America’s great traditional values. Grumpiness with thte current government resulted in a revolution in 1776, and a repeated attemp four score and five years later.

  14. #14 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    If true to government form, the Office of the Repealer will reject all recommended repeals and instead serve to expand government and get tax/spend politicians elected by fooled smaller government voters.

    Just saying…skepticism is due.

    Speaking of Steam Engines, did anyone catch the NYC Parks Dept that is tasked with making all the basketball hoops…by hand? Yes, they are union. And, the article (although slanted to quaint nostalgia) did include a quote from Spalding that was basically “WTF? We make those for $3 a hoop.” So, NYC ain’t real serious about their budget.

  15. #15 |  EH | 

    God forbid we repeal laws regulating the operation of steam engines. Why, it would be like living in Somalia.

    That’s just your grumpiness talking, come join us in reality!

    Heck, even when I was a teenager I thought that all laws should include sunset clauses just so that the laws would have to be renewed from time to time…or not.

  16. #16 |  John Goulden | 

    Not Heinlein, but Herbert. See Bureau of Sabotage.”

  17. #17 |  Saint Zero | 

    I think sunset clauses are a good idea, to force legislatures to revisit and check to see if they’re really needed. Or have the people vote on what they want to keep.

  18. #18 |  SJE | 

    I, sir, for one am appalled at the latest shenanigans coming from the Senator, which would destroy the very fabric of society. I sir, call you a scoundrel, and shall strike you with my cane at the next opportunity.

    How else can women of proper status and breeding be protected from the ravages of the unscrupulous merchant who purveys substandard corset?. How shall people travel if their steam engines are not functioning? Without the railways, we shall be unable to partake of the envigorating intercourse of commerce! How shall we know of the outside world if horsemen cannot deliver the latest news?

  19. #19 |  SJE | 

    Saint Zero: when politicians hear “sunset clause” they are thinking of ways to regulate the time and manner of the sun setting.

  20. #20 |  JS | 

    I think the New York Times has the mentality of a cult and their god is government. That’s the only possible explanation for their typical distrust of anything, no matter how sensible, that attempts to limit government power in any way.

  21. #21 |  JS | 

    SJE “we shall be unable to partake of the envigorating intercourse of commerce!”

    lol best line of the day!

  22. #22 |  croaker | 


    Someone put up all the NY pistol permits on the internet.


    Some people never learn.

  23. #23 |  C. Andrew | 

    Heinlein’s idea was the 2nd house of a bicameral legislature that could repeal anything with a mere 1/3 majority. (The first house was required to mass a 2/3 majority to pass anything.) Brownback’s sounds more like an executive branch office than a legislative one.

  24. #24 |  C. Andrew | 

    Oops. And the only thing the 2nd house was to do was to look for laws to repeal.

  25. #25 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    #16 | John Goulden:

    No, there was an explicit suggestion in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress for a house of the legislature that only needed a 1/3 minority vote to repeal laws.

    I don’t remember whether Herbert’s Bureau of Sabotage is quite as good an example– I think it either impeded enforcement or tried to make bad laws look ridiculous.

  26. #26 |  Ray | 

    RE: Grumpiness

    I can’t remember an election cycle that was grumpy.

    Without exaggeration, I’d say at least 90% of the campaign signs have the word “conservative” prominently displayed with the general momentum being for everyone to claim “I’m more conservative” than the other.

    What’s going to happen, is that we’re going to have a pretty big move to the supposed right come November, and by this time next year the chrome will already be flaking off of the new wheels, and the NYTimes, et al will be talking about the death of the right.

    This is because we have races like the McCain vs. Hayworth bout. Gee, what a choice. So one of these clowns is going to be elected in a wave of grumpiness, and then they’ll be sticking their foot in the proverbial pile within months, and the left will point and say “See, even the right believes in X, Y, and Z” and we’ll see another opportunity at regaining liberties squandered.

  27. #27 |  You! Slow Down! | 

    Repealing ridiculous parts of state constitutions is long overdue too. West Virginia’s state constitution makes it illegal to possess or display “any red or black flag”. Several states (Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Texas among others) may still have clauses in their state constitutions barring atheists from holding public office and/or testifying in court.

    These seem to be no brainers that should easily have public support to repeal them, with the added bonus that they could easily bog down state legislatures debating them (the less time they have to spend more of our stolen tax dollars and create new “felonies” out of thin air), and put them on the spot so we can see which idiots think those things should remain in their state constitutions.

  28. #28 |  SJE | 

    Completely off topic: an insight into the quality of DC police.
    DC Mayor Adrian Fenty has round-the-clock personal security on his house. That did not stop two guys from riding up to his house and stealing two of his bikes.

    from http://www.thewashcycle.com

    Bike Theft to Become Elevated Concern in DC
    This is pretty embarrassing. Two young men rode up to Mayor Fenty’s house on poor quality bikes and decided to swap theirs for a couple of his. They stole two 1-year old mountain bikes worth about $300 each – while the security detail watched on closed-circuit TV.

    The thefts occurred on June 3 around 7:40 p.m., while officers were on the grounds of the Fenty home, records show.

    The mayor’s home is under camera surveillance and has an around-the-clock police security detail assigned to it. According to internal police records, detectives were reviewing surveillance tapes and testing the left-behind bikes for evidence. At least one officer is now facing discipline on neglect charges from Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

    The thieves must be totally bummed that they didn’t get their hands on the $12,000 Colnago racing bike Fenty was given.

    If your own private police security detail can’t keep you from having your bike stolen, what hope is there?

  29. #29 |  Dakota | 

    @ 28
    “If your own private police security detail can’t keep you from having your bike stolen, what hope is there?”

    Maybe closing your garage door? Or a “private police force” that didn’t just chill out and watch people jack your bikes on CC TV?

    From the DCEX: “Officer Wilson Liriano was watching a closed-circuit television monitor when he saw one of the thieves riding a bicycle inside the open garage. That thief was followed in by two friends, also riding bikes. Within a minute, the trio fled, according to police records.”

  30. #30 |  Gretchen | 

    Sam Brownback actually did something useful?!? I might have heart failure.

  31. #31 |  Kevin | 

    One of my favorite bits of Heinlein dialogue was when the main character (Perhaps in To Sail Beyond the Sunset?) was recalling how unhappy she was when the government’s budget first reached 1 Trillion dollars. Her followup comment:

    “Fortunately, most of it was wasted”

  32. #32 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “God forbid we repeal laws regulating the operation of steam engines. Why, it would be like living in Somalia.”

    When using Somalia as an example of a dysfunctional society, it is only fair to remind everyone that the US and its military and intelligence operatives have destroyed Somalia, which previously had an anarchic style of organization under the Islamic Courts Union.

    Perhaps a better metaphor would have been North Korea. Or Mississippi.

    At any rate, I’ll celebrate when every single law has been repealed and hierarchical government vanishes from the Earth. For now, Brownback is just showbiz, though I’ll grant that it has to start SOMEWHERE.

  33. #33 |  akvusn eh | 

    I don’t know man – steamboats, steam engines. When we’re heating & cooking w/dung – and fueling our steam engines with it – won’t we want regulations on the books? You, of all people, should know you can allow dung-fired steam engines to be run in tunnels.

    On the other hand, the forced relocation of the populations of Kansas, Missouri & Michigan would allow us elites to cover those states with wind generators & solar panels.

  34. #34 |  Doug Murray | 

    I thought this was a pretty good idea back in the ’70 when Robert Townsend (I think) proposed in ‘Up the Organization’ that every organization should have a ‘Vice President of Killing Things’. Things, of course, were organizational not biological.

  35. #35 |  Matt | 

    It’s the wrong approach, it probably won’t happen, and if it does happen it probably won’t be very effective. Pass a constitutional amendment requiring ALL acts of government to have sunset clauses expiring no later than the end of the legislative term following the one in which they were originally passed, and throw in a clause adding a retroactive sunset to all pre-existing laws that goes off two years after ratification of the amendment. That’ll trim down government right quick.

    But at least this shows they’re thinking in the right general direction.

    FWIW, “prudence”, “good governance”, and “fiscal responsibility” can really only be applied to incumbents, not challengers or the general public, whatever the merits of their proposals. “Grumpy” on the other hand, works nicely for everyone. And while the NYT might mean it as a slur, I wear it as a badge of honor. In the modern climate, the electorate is divided into two mutually exclusive classes: the grumpy, and the insane.

  36. #36 |  Don K | 

    Now, if only the Michigan legislature could get the nerve to repeal the laws against adultery, blasphemy, sodomy, “lewd and lascivious cohabitation” (shacking up, I think), private “gross indecency” (whatever the hell that is), and cursing in front of women and children, I might have some respect for them.

    Unfortunately, I suspect even legislators who are in favor of repealing these laws shy away from it, because the campaign ads write themselves (Representative John Doe is in favor of gross indecency!!), and meanwhile the MCL is cluttered up with laws that are selectively (at most) enforced, or can be used by prosecutors to load up on charges that can be dropped in plea bargaining.

    Oh and BTW, one of the candidates for the Republican nomination for Governor (Mike Cox) has admitted to violation of the prohibition against adultery, which is a felony carrying a jail term of up to four years. Now, I’m not going to vote for Cox under any circumstances, but it would be kind of cool having a confessed felon as governor.

  37. #37 |  nicrivera | 

    Boyd Durkin wrote: “If true to government form, the Office of the Repealer will reject all recommended repeals and instead serve to expand government and get tax/spend politicians elected by fooled smaller government voters.”

    I’m afraid I have to agree with Boyd. We live in an Orwellian age when government agencies can typically be expected to carry out policies that directly contradict the objective with which the agency has been tasked with (as well as the name of the agency itself).

    The Department of Defense?
    The Department of Justice?

  38. #38 |  Cynical in CA | 

    I apologize for the truth being painful.

  39. #39 |  cleek | 

    this “office of the repealer” would immediately be co-opted by lobbyists and industry reps who wanted to repeal inconvenient regulations and fees. it would serve as yet another way the rich and powerful could use government to enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpayer and the environment.

  40. #40 |  random guy | 

    Office of the Repealer is ridiculous in my opinion. Who expands government in order to limit government? Such an organization would be the first stop for lobbyists looking to strip effective (and probably expensive) state regulations.

    A far easier solution is to begin putting time limits on current legislation and organizations and addressing old problems as they become evident. Every law should have to be reviewed two years after its inception date, and every five years after that. The same should be true for any government organization. But even this is a fantasy. No organization can effectively police itself, especially legislative bodies.

    What is really needed is better system whereby citizens can challenge laws within the courts for effectiveness and constitutionality. Unelected judges are the only ones within the system that can even remotely be trusted to weigh facts and make the difficult decision of ending policies. If an organization or law does not accomplish the goals it was established to do, or worse yet accomplishes unconstitutional goals, you should not blithely hand it back to the legislators who wrote it and expect them to fix the problem.

  41. #41 |  nitpicker | 

    As a former editor of Kansas’ own “Farm Collector magazine,” I assure you there are enough steam engines still around that the laws should remain, especially since the folks who are operating them now are hobbyists. Four people were killed by one of these engines exploding during the time I was editor, around ten years ago.

    Having said that, sure, purge old laws, etc., but he can’t legally get rid of wasteful programs or archaic state agencies without legislative approval.

  42. #42 |  Winski | 

    Don’t like grumpiness hey, how about….uh… STUPIDITY??

    So when US Senator’s start proposing agencies for a STATE government… There really isn’t much in Kansas is there..

  43. #43 |  Radley Balko | 

    Don’t like grumpiness hey, how about….uh… STUPIDITY??

    So when US Senator’s start proposing agencies for a STATE government…

    Brownback is running for governor.