When I heard that an Eau Claire homeowners association had voted to outlaw smoking in the owner-occupied residential complex, I knew right away the topic had the potential to ignite local controversy.
But little did I realize the action by the Fairfax Parkside Homeowners Association would fan the flames of the intense debate between smoking advocates and opponents on a national scale.
The story I wrote appeared in the Monday, July 20, Leader-Telegram, and within hours responses from around the U.S. began to flood my e-mail and telephone voice mail. Initially I wondered how so many people from California to Massachusetts and points in between had read my story. I discovered there was a good explanation.
The story made its way to The Associated Press, then to the Drudge Report, a conservative online news site, where it reached a nationwide audience. From there the story took on an even larger life as conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh discussed it.
Most people contacting me about the topic were upset the regulation dictated rules to people living in their own homes. Some opponents of the smoking ban said they will not visit Eau Claire in protest. Several, such as Mark Schug of Raleigh, N.C., said they would take up smoking if they lived in the Fairfax complex just to prove individual freedom trumps any nonsmoking rule. Others responded similarly.
“When a bunch of socialists can control my country for their (betterment), I know I would not want to be part of anything like that,” said Bill Redd of Maumee, Ohio.
Still others advocated more in-your-face opposition to the nonsmoking mandate. One man said he’d rather undergo a second circumcision than live with the ban, while another said those who voted for the smoking ban should be killed.
Talk about time to take a deep breath and calm down.
In typical fashion, Limbaugh did his best to stir up his supporters. I didn’t hear the segment in which he addressed the matter but found a transcript online where he likened the smoking ban to “a communist idea” from somewhere other than Washington, D.C. Limbaugh and people calling his show apparently bashed the ban and the man who proposed it, Dave Hanvelt, the Fairfax Park Homeowners Association president.
The strong sentiment against regulating smoking didn’t surprise me. I’d heard plenty of similar views espoused by smokers’ rights advocates both before and after the Eau Claire City Council adopted an ordinance in March 2008 prohibiting smoking in city taverns and other indoor public places. The ban took effect July 1 last year.
However, I was surprised - and amused - by another facet of reaction to the story.
As soon as the story hit the front page (and the Web site) of this newspaper, Hanvelt became a sought-after man.
Or, more precisely, he became a target.
For several days afterward, Hanvelt was overwhelmed with media requests seeking an explanation for why he proposed the no-smoking rule. Among them, he did an interview with Fox News, talked with an Ohio newspaper and was a guest on the “Big John and Cisco” call-in radio program on WIND-AM Chicago.
Throughout the process he took a beating from commentators, who painted him as an ultraliberal socialist-communist looking to eventually expand government control to every facet of our lives.
“I was surely surprised by the viciousness of the attacks, the mockery and paranoia,” Hanvelt said in response to the criticism of him.
And that’s where this gets ironically funny. Not only were many of the comments about the Fairfax smoking regulations utterly preposterous, but attempting to paint Hanvelt as the heir to Karl Marx is laughable.
Here’s a little secret most of those criticizing Hanvelt’s political leanings apparently don’t know: He’s a conservative. In fact, he’s a staunch conservative.
That isn’t a secret to readers of the Leader-Telegram’s letters to the editor section, where Hanvelt frequently espouses his conservative, libertarian views.
Hanvelt noted the irony of his being painted as a leftist. “That is certainly not how I’m used to being described,” he laughed.
Public health issue
So how does a conservative back a ban on smoking in privately owned homes? For Hanvelt, that action doesn’t represent government intrusion on individual rights but the wishes of a majority of residents living in a development that has a stated list of restrictions.
Before those living in the Fairfax Parkside development on Eau Claire’s south side bought homes there, they agreed to abide by numerous regulations that dictate such items as where garbage containers can be stored and whether gardens ban be planted. If a majority of those residents don’t want smoking, so be it.
“We accept these restrictions when we choose to live here,” Hanvelt said, noting the smoking ban is about public health, not politics.
That makes sense to me, or certainly more sense than the rantings of people demonizing the Fairfax Park ban as the end of freedom for all. When compared to logic, those arguments go up in smoke.
Emerson can be reached at 830-5911, 800-236-7077 or [email protected]