Tag Archives: Freedom of Speech

We are all Citizens, but not United

Author’s note: 3/13/2016 — On the occasion of my first visit to Barr Lake State Park, Colorado

We are an organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizens’ control.
Through a combination of education, advocacy, and grass roots organization, we seek to reassert the traditional American values of limited government, individual freedom including freedom of enterprise, and national security.
Our goal is to restore the founding fathers’ vision of a free nation, guided by the honesty, common sense, and good will of its citizens. [1]

There are very, very few natural lakes in Colorado, outside of the mountain area. Probably zero. Grand Lake, from which the Colorado River flows, on the western extreme of Rocky Mountain National Park, is the only significantly sized lake in Colorado, but it is in a pretty mountainous area. Fact is: most of Colorado – particularly east of the Rockies – is parched most of the year. Hence: no lakes.

This was a problem for 19th and early 20th century farmers. Creeks and shallow draws would fill with water during spring and early summer snow-melt run-off, only to go mostly dry for most of the rest of the year. Farmers united to form cooperatives and local water management corporations to manage water so that food could be produced for Colorado’s rapidly growing population. And for its growing economy.

Even a mildly casual observer of eastern Colorado’s terrain notices that it is crisscrossed with ditches and pock-marked with man-made lakes. These provide water – with senior and junior water rights – via Western water law. Such laws can appear as twisted as the ditches and canals that were developed along with them.

One of the water gems in the Denver area is Barr Lake. Originally a buffalo wallow [2] near current Brighton and Lochbouie, it was a low draw that gathered water in the spring and early summer, allowing grasses to grow and attracting animals like the bison, rabbits, coyote and hawks. The location gained interest as a potential reservoir when the Burlington & Quincy railroad came through in the early 1880s (a well-used Burlington-Northern line still passes by there).

Over the decades a ditch was dug which drew water from the South Platte River to this low-lying area. The ditch was enhanced and — for a while — others added. A dam was added, and  large reservoirs were built that provided a huge number of benefits. Eventually the reservoirs were joined into a single large water management body of water: Barr Lake.  But the bottom line was it provided a steady supply of water. Water for farmers – at first mostly sugar beet farmers: at the time referred to as white gold. Water for native trees like Cottonwoods to grow. Water attracted waterfowl. Fish came. Eagles, osprey, even seagulls. It became an end-point and a stop-over for migrating birds. A gem.

Since the early 1900s the Barr and Milton Reservoirs have been owned and managed by the Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company (FRICO). FRICO was incorporated in Colorado in 1902, as a corporation with the mission of protecting the water quality, and steadying the quantity, of water available for agriculture in and on the front range of Colorado. This is the beginning of how many of the Farm-to-Table and fresh Farmer’s Markets products get to our tummies every week, every day. Agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry in Colorado. It provides food, and jobs. Barr Lake is central to that.

FRICO manages Barr Lake in coordination with the State of Colorado’s Wildlife and State Park departments. Eagles nest and winter there. Osprey spend their summers there. It is host to an education center and a raptor center. It is the locale of some of the best birding in Colorado. Barr Lake is central to the wonderful wildlife of Colorado’s front range prairies.

Birding at Barr Lake, Brighton, Colorado

Birding at Barr Lake, Brighton, Colorado

Now, I want you to imagine a situation wherein a legislator or executive of the state of Colorado (or the Federal Government) wished to do something to harm the interests of the farmers, nature enthusiasts, and birders of Colorado. Perhaps they wish to allow a little more industrial effluent into the canals that feed the lake. Perhaps lay state’s claim to the water for some use they deem could help raise more tax dollars; like more suburbs.

Would we allow FRICO to speak in defense of the lake? If the politician had a shady past and questionable judgment, would we allow FRICO to allege that the politician had ulterior motives … that they didn’t hold the best interests of our citizens in high priority? Would we allow them to produce a documentary movie?

Hold that thought.

I live in the town of Erie, which is an incorporated Town in the state of Colorado. Naturally, it has a Chamber of Commerce, which is an incorporated corporation in the state of Colorado with the mission to promote the community; to promote its economics, businesses, environment and culture.

Imagine a situation wherein the state has legislators, or candidates for office, who wish to impose their own visions on Erie. More fracking, less fracking. Taking 10% of our water rights for state needs. Revoking access to commercial areas. Limiting annexation possibilities.

Would we allow the Chamber of Commerce to speak in defense of the interests of Erie?

To point out where said politicians had demonstrated poor judgment in the past? To produce and market a movie about said politicians?

_____________________________

For almost all groups of individuals who have some common interest … corporations are formed. Be they Home Owner’s Associations, Labor Unions, Kiwanis Clubs, Optimists Clubs and Rotary Clubs, or Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Some groups, like from the quote atop this essay, wished to inform the public about a candidate for president whom they found especially egregious. The year was 2007 and her name was Hillary Clinton. Do we allow people to express their concern about her qualifications and history? They made a movie about their concerns and were subsequently sued.  The suit ended up in the Supreme Court. In the end — long after the election — they won their case: the freedom to express their views.

You might recognize this as the famous/notorious “Citizens United” case. (Actually Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission). Perhaps not. But the claim (mostly from the Left) is that “corporations aren’t people.” At least insofar as freedom of speech is concerned.

Many are very agitated that “corporations” have a free voice in politics. About how our country is run. I can’t completely disagree with that. I’m concerned too.

Great. Let’s go with that. Let’s shut down free speech for corporations. If free speech and access to deliver a message is bad for Citizens United, and Nabisco and Hersheys and Exxon and Chevron and Monsanto … then it’s bad for the Farmers Irrigation and Reservoir Company, most Chambers of Commerce, most community service organization, Home Owners’ Associations, Unions and …

Let’s hold on a minute. Magazines, and Newspapers and TV stations are corporations. Or they are parts of corporations. They often do the hard legwork of investigative journalism that tells us what is wrong with US politics.

Think early 1970s: Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post. Deep Throat. Exposing a sitting president (Nixon) as obstructing justice. A defiled president then resigns in ignominy. And rightfully so!!

If we shut down political free speech by corporations, we are effectively saying that magazines and newspapers and radio programs and TV programs and even on-line blogs have no right to express their opinion. Or attempt to express their opinions. Or make movies …

Because … OMG! … they might be corporations.

Maybe all these “Citizens United” worry-warts are all correct. But it is a very, very slippery slope. Here in the United States we protect freedom of speech, even if it is from a corporation, or from someone whose message we really don’t like.

And if it’s money in politics we’re actually afraid of, remember this: for the 2016 election … no one was better funded than Jeb Bush. After that, it’s the same Hillary Clinton, who has had no problem tripping all over that money and — perhaps fumbling the ball directly into Bernie Sanders’ arms.  Or worse: Donald Trump’s.

I admit to being conflicted. I might be wrong. Yet, even in this case I choose to cling tightly to expansive interpretation of First Amendment rights, which includes freedom to express thoughts and freedom of press — whatever we might construe “press” to mean in this digital era. I welcome your comments, either below or via emails.

Joe Girard © 2016
joe@girardmeister.com

[1] My adaptation of the mission statement of Citizens United.

[2] Officially, there are no “buffalo” in North America. Any such animals are actually Bison. Still, terms like Buffalo Wallow are commonly used.