Property Rights Foundation of America®

from the Sixth Annual New York State Conference on Private Property Rights
November 16, 2002, Albany, New York

Defending New England Traditions

Sean McKeon

My topic is about New England traditions, and I am going to try and speak briefly about those things. They really American traditions. They are traditions that are rooted in the Western Christian tradition where we have always held that private property is sacred. Private property is the foundation on which almost everything else is built. If we don't have those traditions, we really don't have anything. [Recalling the previous speaker's mention of] Mr. Jefferson's wonderful bridge that he purchased, it is interesting to note that, in the Declaration and Constitution, they changed a little bit of the documents that they took from. It was the words private property that he was referring to instead of the pursuit of happiness. It was actually private property in the original version of those things.

I'm from Vermont, so I apologize for our guys. I apologize for Jumping Jim Jeffords and the rest of them that gave Daschle the Senate for these years and caused all the problems that we have had. I was very interested in Yeltsin's quote about socialism being a model experiment; they just should have tried it in a smaller country. Vermont is that "smaller country," and we have been trying that noble experiment out for years, and we have been failing. Also, I would like to say this in the broader text. When the really good guys speak, like Tom Bethell and those guys, they always take everything you are going to say, particularly, when you are in the afternoon. Everything's been said. But he brought up that colony in Massachusetts. That is really a great story, and if you don't know about it — he spoke about it today — it is in his book. You can find it in other places. But that is precisely what happened. They tried to have a commune. They tried to have that everybody's going to share everything attitude and there would be some central authority to that. It obviously didn't work. They almost all died. They almost all starved to death. I think Tom said that half of the folks that arrived actually did die in very short order. So it really is a tradition that while it starts there in New England in the region that I work most in, it's an American tradition. Those American traditions have been passed down to us by a lot of great folks.

What my organization tries to do, as Carol was saying, is we try to coordinate across industries. I am primarily engaged in the forest products industry. My directors are foresters, private consulting foresters, but what I try to do is show someone that a small business issue, universal health care, for example, is a private property issue and that they both have as their central tenant centralized bureaucracy. If the government succeeds in convincing the vast majority of people that everything has to be done at a central location, then the task for private property owners becomes more difficult.

As we see, each and every year it gets harder and harder to put forward the notion of private property rights, and I really would like to compliment Carol and this organization for not running away from that term, private property, property rights. I have been to a myriad of meetings of good guys and people who would be on our side who have over the years tried to steer us away from using private property, to kind of camouflage our agenda and the message that we have for people and to characterize it as something other than what it is. It is about private property. It is about the ability to use your God-given talents the way you choose to use them, to experience the fruits of your labor, and to use the fruits of your labor the way you see fit. To raise your kids the way that you see fit and to educate them. We are beginning to see that, with all of these issues that we are addressing, whether they are private property rights or whether they are parental concerns, parental rights, constitutional issues, there is a fine thread that runs through them all and that says you don't understand or know how to take care of those areas of your lives. R. J. just gave a great talk on how many examples, just in the private property stewardship section, we have that it's absolutely not the case.

I always wonder how a person who maybe two or three days before the election was the guy delivering your mail or was somebody teaching your kids or something and then, if they are elected, they are experts in everything. The next day they become an expert on every single topic including the Constitution they probably never read, the law, they're an expert on the environment. If they go to Washington, they are automatically experts in farm policy. I always marvel at that, because, usually in January in Vermont, when the legislative session starts in our state, and I sit across from somebody who prior to November election had never been in government before, all of a sudden the person is an expert on every single topic that we are discussing. How unfortunate that is, because, for the most part, the legislators that we have in Vermont have moved up there, they are trust fund people for the most part, people who have never had to work or don't have to work anymore, and there is a disconnect between the things that real working people, real folks have to do for a living to feed their families and to work hard just to make ends meet.

I was talking to a friend of mine, Bill, at lunch — we were sitting together, there in the back — and I always thought it was interesting that Robert Rice, the Secretary of Labor, had a job in the private sector and I marveled at that. Here he was making policy for the labor industry and I wanted to ask him — you have to look way down when you talk to Robert, he is very short — but could you tell me, Mr. Rice, when is the last time or the first time you ever had a job in the private sector. Have you ever had to make a decision whether to take a paycheck yourself or to cut one for your employees? Or to make sure that their benefits or that their needs are taken care of before your own company takes a profit? Have you ever had to make those decisions? No.

I think that what I try to do is I try to go across industries. I talk with people who are in the forest products industry, I talk to people who are in small business, I talk to farmers. We are very close to the Farm Bureau people. All of these issues have connecting threads, and we are going to stand, we are going to sink or swim, if we understand that and work the way the other side has always worked. You almost never see the environmentalist groups, the radical environmentalists, take on the feminists. You will never see them infighting. It just doesn't happen. You'll never see the feminists taking on young pro-abortion lobby or any of those groups. What you do see is one private property group, for example, forest products industry may keep information that would be very useful to Carol in the zoning battle or in a property issue. I think it is unfortunate that we have got to bring that topic up, but we really have to get a little bit better at working together. That means sharing resources, it means sharing information, not being afraid to take a back seat when someone else has the lead on that issue, but to be there for them, to back them up, to hold them up and let them know they are not alone.

I found over the years, I've known Carol now a few years. I have heard a lot about her, read a lot about her, we met a few years back, and I just really admire what she does over here. I admire this gathering particularly because it gives me an insight, and we were just saying a minute ago you tend to sometimes feel like you are the only one there if only three or four of you or half a dozen of you who are engaged in the struggles, but when you start to see that there are great people. The lady that received that award today, you know, seeing what you did and how you do it, it is an inspiration to me but also for me to take back and take over to Vermont and let people know that there are a lot of good people across this region.

That being said, I just want to say that, on the positive side, what we did in Vermont. A lot of you heard about the Champion lands issue that was going on in Vermont; a big piece of the former Champion lands was up for sale. Long story short, the government convinced enough of our different groups and organizations several years ago to put up some money to purchase the conservation easements on that property. And, long story short, the government lied. What's new? And The Nature Conservancy now owns those easements, and they have put a core area into the middle of a place that was never supposed to have one. That battle, I am one of the believers that in all these bad times and situations there is always a silver lining and that God always has a little bit of a surprise for the other side and that is, in this really bad situation, where they basically lied to the people in the state, they took a lot of money and did this, is that it exposed so much of who The Nature Conservancy is and what they are about, the people that are with them. The government bureaucracies in our state have given a lot of time and/or money to these organizations.

We didn't have to do a heck of a lot of work. The local people started to say, who is The Nature Conservancy? What are they about? All we were there to do is supply a little information, some web sites. Go to the Wildlands Project or all these different things. So with all these things that somehow look like they are not going well, there is always a silver lining, and I always find out that if you let a liberal, particularly the activists, talk, they will hang themselves in short order with their own words and you really don't have to say too much. Just record what they say, write it down, remember what they say, and be ready to use it in the next battle.

The recent elections — I think we should be smiling. Hopefully, this will be an end to a nightmare that has been the judicial branch of our government for the last 25 years. Let us hope and pray that President Bush has the folks around him with the intestinal fortitude to put some strict constructionist to the Constitution of this country in power. We need to keep that pressure up on our reps to make them do that. All the battles we care about will be fought in the, anyway, in the next 20 years, 30 years. So that is a key component to it all.

I would like to read just something about that. I am going to close here. Most of you know Perry Pendley. He is a constitutional lawyer. He is one of our great friends. He wrote in his book, War on the West, about the court system, and I think it is really key right now and why the elections were so important, particularly the landslide in the national picture, and I quote.

"For the past twenty or more years, environmental extremists have used the courts of the land, particularly in the West, to clutch courtroom victories from the jaws of congressional defeat, to expand statutes and regulations beyond recognition, and to apply laws in seemingly impossible situations. In the process, property rights have been spurned and the efforts of landowners to seek constitutional redress have been thwarted. More recently, courts, in particular, the Supreme Court and Court of Claims, have read the Fifth Amendment as our founding fathers intended and our liberty demands. The Supreme Court has taken important steps in the right direction, but their steps have occurred relatively recently in a journey that began back in 1922. Much remains to be done."

Much remains to be done. I would add, while I share quite a bit of Dr. Reisman's pessimistic pronouncements, particularly in Maine, I know folks up there in Vermont, I also know that the fact that I am standing here means I have not thrown in the towel, nor has Dr. Reisman, or the rest of you that are here. It may take some sort of an economic disaster to bring our states and respective country to its knees, but I think we have to be there to pick up the pieces, and we have the founding document that will help us do that.

So thank you very much, and I appreciate your letting me speak.


Ms. LaGrasse: Thank you so much, Sean.

Ms. LaGrasse: One thing that Sean didn't mention that I thought maybe he could mention very briefly was that his group has been involved in trying co-opt the environmental groups in the area of conservation easements. I wonder if you could explain what you are doing with conservation easements.

Mr. McKeon: Yes, I will keep you for one more minute. A few years ago, we were presented with a dilemma. What happened was there was a large landowner in Vermont that was hell-bent on giving the Vermont Land Trust, one of the more radical left groups in our state, a conservation easement on their property. My organization is a 501(c)(3) and we formed it specifically to kind of get into the face of the other NGO's and those folks. One of my directors actually was this landowner's forester and said, why don't you let us write one? So we wrote what we were told at the time through Perry's law firm, and Jim Burling looked at it. Now first, you understand that the only reason we did this — we absolutely tell people don't ever do it — was that this guy was about to hand it off to a bad group, and we wrote an easement that mandates that timber harvesting is the primary conservation tool that has to be used to preserve wildlife management and, also, any other aesthetic value. We picked, my organization picks, the foresters who manage that plan. In other words, we kind of introduced the free market into even the easement place, so now folks have an option if they want to do it. We first say, don't do it, don't get involved. But if you are going to, at least let there be some economic value to the communities and the people that live there. So we did that. I just wanted to mention that.

Back to:
Vermont State Index PRFA Property Rights Conferences PRFA Home Page

© 2002 Property Rights Foundation of America®
All rights reserved. This material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.