Speech from PRFAs Eleventh Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights

Welcome — Forged in the Fire
by Carol W. LaGrasse

Once again, I would like to welcome you. We have actually done ten annual national conferences on private property rights, thanks to all of you and our wonderful speakers. Now we are very hopefully starting the second decade. We have reached our Eleventh Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights. So let’s all wish each other well and hope that we can do another decade. With all of you, I think it is possible. It has been a long haul, and I am just extremely grateful to you, to the speakers, and also to our co-sponsors. Some brave folk have stuck with us as co-sponsors for a number of years.

We have people here today from all the way to California. Ellen McClay has come in from Arizona. She wanted to come just for the conference. So I invited her to sign her book and come to speak. That is how Ellen McClay is here. She told me that she has twenty years on me. So if you can figure out where I am chronologically, you have an idea that Ellen is a real hero coming here today.

This week we had a bunch of telephone calls. It was strange because none of them called because of the knowledge that the conference was taking place. It was just a coincidence that this week we had about four times as many calls as usual. I also had to make a lot of calls out because I had to do some final arrangements and fund raising for the event, and it was interesting

I reached a man in California whose organization had been a co-sponsor several times, and he gave me a really discouraged response. He said, “I have given up.” He said it was not worth staying with us anymore. I put too much into it, he said, and instead I am going to work on my grandchildren’s private schooling and pay for that with all my remaining assets and spend all my remaining time with my grandchildren.

Well, you can’t criticize a person. He is discouraged and it was too bad.

But, I say we are in for the long haul. We shouldn’t expect easy results because the corporations which should be on our side because we are for capitalism, for free enterprise, they decide to give to the environmental nonprofits; so all the big money from the old Northeast wealth that has gone to those foundations like the Pew Charitable Trusts is going to the nonprofits that are against us. But still we can do an awful lot. We may not be seeing the big victories that we want, but I think that, if we stay with it, the tide will turn because the radical environmentalism and the radical land use controls that are bound to reveal their ugly underbelly to people over the years and there might be a change in the tide.

So here we are, and we are in a situation where we don’t gain power, say, for the members of Congress or the bureaucrats by winning freedom for people. Freedom takes away their power; so there is not this inherent clientele. People that want more power, which is a natural, but predominantly wrongful, evil inclination, are not wanting to do well by private property rights and freedom. So we haven’t got natural allies among these people, and, of course, there are great quotes from the founders that I can give you about the fact that you have a republic, if you can keep it, and private property rights undergirding all of our freedoms. You know there are so many basic things that were understood more than 200 years ago, and we understand them today, but they are not convenient for people who want power, for people who want to add to their tremendous wealth.

Yes, here we are. We almost never bring anybody into power because of private property rights. Even, for instance, take former Congressman Richard Pombo. He got to be elected on private property rights. He was far better than other people, but he was iffy at times. But we don’t have people like that. We can’t really have a ribbon cutting for private property rights, for things like taking away a trail, or taking away a redevelopment. You can’t have a ribbon cutting for taking away a downtown redevelopment or stopping it. You don’t have that. So our side hasn’t thought of a way, or maybe there isn’t a way, to get a lot of accolades for the politicos for protecting our rights. Maybe we should think of that more, but we haven’t.

This is where we are. I thought I’d title this speech “Forged in the Fire.” We are working against great forces, and we are really getting beaten around, but we do have successes. I’ll give you an example. It is a peculiar one and it surprises people.

In New York we had an adverse possession issue, and it went through the state’s Court of Appeals, and the Court of Appeals ruled in the way that pleased me, that I had spoken in favor of when I was interviewed by the Associated Press. The Court of Appeals, which, as you know, is our highest court, defended the ancient law of adverse possession, which is when somebody hostilely and openly occupies the property of another for a minimum number of years. There are several tests for it that have to be passed. All these tests were passed and the adverse possessor was supported by the Court of Appeals.

Well, the person who lost in that decision created a sob story and for some reason her members of the legislature, who were also my members of the legislature, bought it. They must have blown all their chits to get a bill to modify the law of adverse possession through both houses, the Republican Senate and the Democrat Assembly, with only two “nay” votes. It wouldn’t just have modified the law in a minor way, say, to make ten years be fifteen years or maybe that you couldn’t exert adverse possession on your neighbor’s property if all you did was mow the lawn. It instead said that if an adverse possessor had knowledge that he owned the neighbor’s property, the adverse possession would be invalid. That goes against the whole tradition. Plus, it would make it impossible to prove adverse possession if, say, after ten years of occupation or maybe after many years of occupation, because you bought the property from someone else who built a house over on the neighbor, if that person might have known or maybe that person didn’t know but the person before him or the person before him or the person before him knew. You couldn’t really clear title.

So there was this legislation and I learned it had passed both houses. Holy Moses, I thought, they can’t pass nothing for the Adirondacks because of supposedly the Democrat Assembly, but they can reform the entire law of adverse possession to make it useless. I woke myself up and said to myself that I will just make one call to the governor’s counsel.

I called the governor’s counsel. It turns out that I reached a very helpful woman named Amanda Hiller, who is a brilliant lawyer, and I asked her if they would perhaps consider carefully before the governor signed this bill about adverse possession because it has some negative factors to it. To my amazement, she discoursed to me far more eruditely than I could to her about why the bill was dangerous for the future of private property ownership, basically. She said that the state bar association’s real estate division has been opposed to it all along and had written against it. She said that she needed more support; so I offered the Property Rights Foundation of America. She said, well, that would be excellent. I said, should I send a letter? How should I send it? She said, you should e-mail it. Well, the bill had just arrived at the governor’s desk the day before, and the decision whether to veto it or pass it was only four days away.

So I sent my little e-mail letter, which is in your packet, and about six days later I received an angry call from Teresa Sayward. Carol, how could you do this to us? Well, what turned out was that there was a governor’s veto message and the veto message listed two organizational opponents, the bar association’s real property division and the Property Rights Foundation of America. While I was on the call with Teresa Sayward, my assemblywoman, there comes a call from Rebecca, who is Senator Betty Little’s top aide, and she said, Carol, all these letters you write to us and you never wrote any letters about your opposition to this bill. I said, well, Rebecca, I didn’t know about any bill being in the legislature. I knew that Mrs. Przybylo, who was the one who lost, was going to do something, but I didn’t know there was a bill in the legislature. I said learned about it when it passed. Furthermore, the way I understand it, I said, is that we never can pass anything in the Assembly. We can only pass the Senate because the Assembly is all Democrats. We never get any bills through to help the Adirondacks. She said, I couldn’t disagree with that. So that was that.

So what happened was that one call, one e-mail letter got a governor who was a staunch Democrat and I would expect a real enemy of private property rights to do something that would be good for the future of land title, of clear title in the state of New York.

That is the type of thing you can do occasionally by good luck. Of course, you can work for twenty years on something and still be losing. Anyway, you can do a lot, and, of course, the people who work on local zoning issues and local planning issues know that they can have good victories at the local level.

We can’t fight on a superficial basis. That’s what I say is the meaning of being forged in the fire. We have to stick to our principle. That is the problem with the telephone calls I receive, such as six calls the day before yesterday from people with private property rights problems. Few have an understanding that goes beyond their immediate issue.

Those who do see beyond themselves are exceptional. One caller was a person who was community minded. He really didn’t have a specific problem, but he was concerned for the future of his community. One of the other callers was also a really good caller. Even though he had a private property rights problem, he saw past his problem, and he saw that the situation arose from the ex-urbanites moving from the metropolitan area to rural New York and making it impossible to live if you are a native person with a few cars you are working on, maybe stuff stored in the yard, maybe some firewood you are cutting. So there were two calls out of six who really understood the picture and understood that the core of it was private property rights. That’s what I think it means by being forged in the fire. You know where you stand. You know what is the basis of the problem that you have and what the basis should be for correcting it. That’s why I chose this title.

So, yes, here we stand today. We can help the cause. We can help people by doing that. I hope you take the time today when you meet someone to arrange to keep in contact with that person. You may meet a speaker that you would like to know in the future. You may meet another activist who actually doesn’t live that far from you and you can work together. Together two people are better than one. That’s because two people support each other. They know more people. And on and on. You know all this. That is the idea of this conference. We meet each other. We learn from these tremendous speakers, but we also work together in the future. I want to thank you all for coming and wish you a wonderful day.

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© 2008 Carol W. LaGrasse
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