Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I'm Toast

I've enjoyed writing since I had a poem published in the local paper when I was in the fifth grade. However, when it came to speaking in public, I was never very comfortable. In an effort to remedy that situation, I have joined Toastmasters, a group dedicated to improving public speaking skills. I'm giving my introductory "Ice Breaker" speech tonight, and couldn't resist mixing a little politics in with it. Does that make me a bad person? Anyway, here it is:

Mr. Toastmaster, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for allowing me this opportunity. I am a carpenter by trade, and a politician by necessity. The politician portion of my life has created many instances when I am required to speak in front of a crowd of people. That is a task I have never been comfortable with, and in the next few minutes, you are going to become painfully aware of why I felt it was necessary to join Toastmasters.

I would like to give you a little background on some of the events that led me to my present station in life.

I was born right here in Henry County, and raised on a small farm near Millville. I was the second of eight children. At an early age it was expected and accepted that the children would help with the farm chores. We drank milk from our own cows, ate eggs from our own chickens and bacon from our own pigs.

Outside of an occasional visit to Saffer’s General Store in Mooreland or Kelly’s Ranch Market in Millville, or sometimes when the Jewel Tea man stopped in, we were pretty much self-sufficient. I remember my Grandpa used to say that we were the type of people that liked to “pick up our own sticks and kill our own snakes.”

That self-sufficiency that my parents and grandparents taught me stayed with me into my young adult years, and in 1974, I started my own construction business, which I still operate today. I’ve spent 32 years driving nails. I said I was self-sufficient, I didn’t say I was smart.

This concept of looking out for yourself runs in the family. My wife Susan owns an upholstery shop and a furniture store. When she was elected Judge of the Hagerstown Court in 2003, she drew the first paycheck that either of us had seen in over 25 years. My two oldest children worked and saved and paid their own way through college, and my youngest son, who works with me now and has since he was eight years old, started a home remodeling business when he was junior in high school.

By now you are probably wondering “Where in the world is he going with this. To tell you the truth, I’ve been wondering that myself. I think the point I would try to make is how my upbringing eventually led me to the Libertarian Party. The libertarians are strong supporters of personal freedom and personal responsibility.

I was raised by Republicans, so I naturally thought that I was a Republican, and I had always believed they were the friends of small business and limited government. As long as I could run my business without much interference I was fairly happy, and besides, any I could always blame any undue regulation or excessive tax on some Democrat somewhere.

That frame of mind started unraveling in the mid 1990’s. The building department in Wayne county, where I have resided since 1971, for years was operated by one little man. He would drive around the county visiting with contractors, and as long as nobody made any grievous errors in judgment, and as long the customer was happy with the builder’s work, he was not inclined to get involved in the private affairs of the public. I didn’t like the fact that our county commissioners were wasting our tax dollars paying this man a salary and buying his gas so he could drive around all day, but as long as he mostly left us alone, I had resigned myself to put up with him.

But, as I mentioned, sometime around 1996, my Republican county council and commissioners decided that they were going to “upgrade” the Wayne County Building Department. They increased the budget tenfold, hired a woman from Cincinnati with a codebook and a tape measure, but no knowledge of construction, to run the department, and generally made life a living hell for homeowners and builders in the county. I helped to lead a group of those homeowners and builders in a quest to return some sanity to the department. The new inspector was gone within a year, but not without a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth by a lot of citizens in the county. I’ve always felt that this was the series of events that started to cause me to question if the Republican Party as it existed now was going to be able to satisfy my needs.

It was quite by coincidence that during this time I happened across the coverage of a Libertarian Party convention on CNN. I had never heard of the LP before, but it only took a few minutes of listening to a speech by Presidential candidate Harry Browne for me to decide that “hey, these guys actually get it”. Mr. Browne’s views on a constitutionally limited government, and what that government’s role in our lives should be, mirrored what my thoughts had been for years. I had thought that I was crazy to have these thoughts. Now, maybe I was crazy. But at least I found out that there were other people out there that were just as crazy as I was.

That exposure to the Libertarian Party started me to studying the libertarian philosophy. It is a philosophy of freedom and the responsibility that must accompany that freedom. It is based on the principles of freedom and responsibility that this country was founded on 230 years ago. And it is based on the principles that I was raised on 50 years ago.

It’s about freedom. That’s why I’m proud to be an American, and that’s why I’m proud to be a Libertarian.


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