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NEW: Why Dan Lungren will lose his seat

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Steven Greenhut: My congressman, U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Sacramento, is in a tight race to keep his seat, but I predict he is going to lose even amid a pro-Romney tide. His opponent is a kneejerk Democratic leftist named Ami Bera with no obvious redeemable qualities — someone who will almost certainly vote the Democratic Party line and who seems to have absolutely no original thoughts or ideas. Yet Lungren is in trouble not just because of redistricting, but because real conservatives are sitting on their hands, knowing that few politicians have had a more nefarious role in undermining individual liberty than Dan Lungren.

Lungren is a police-state Republican, someone who is proud of his role in creating a scourge on property rights throughout the country and throughout California. Lungren authored legislation that gave police agencies civil-forfeiture powers designed in theory to combat the drug war. In reality, those same police agencies have used these unlimited powers to grab property from innocent people to bolster their budgets.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) handed out gift pen-knives to its agents with this moniker: Always Think Forfeiture. Most police agencies base their budgets on money they receive by taking your property, even if you have never been convicted of a crime.

As I wrote for Reason:

“Columnist George Will wrote earlier this year of a case in Massachusetts, where law enforcement is attempting to take the motel owned by a family because of allegations that some visitors there dealt drugs from their rooms. ‘The U.S. Department of Justice intends to seize it, sell it for perhaps $1.5 million and give up to 80 percent of that to the Tewksbury Police Department, whose budget is just $5.5 million. The Caswells have not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime.’

“As Will notes, police have an incentive to exaggerate the criminal activity there given their extreme financial incentive for taking the property. Massachusetts, he reported, has more stringent civil-forfeiture standards than federal law, so the town’s police department is, as Will put it, “conniving with the federal government” to use federal standards instead. In essence, the city’s police are violating state law so they can more easily gain the assets of the motel owners.”

No politician has done more to create the above scenario than Dan Lungren.

Keep in mind how many laws are on the books. It is easy to be in violation of some regulation. So thanks to Lungren, law enforcement has enormous powers to take your cars, your home, seize your bank accounts. Like many laws, what was designed to make it easier to hurt real criminals has morphed into a scam in which the authorities target law-abiding citizens or those who have violated the law in some minor or technical way.

Here is an interview from years back with Lungren as he champions his efforts to undermine constitutional protections and undermine our civil liberties. He explained: “While a member of the U.S. Congress, I was a major sponsor of the 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act, the legislative package responsible for giving us asset forfeiture, which was signed into law by President Reagan. I worked for years and dedicated much of my time to help pass that landmark law.”

He also was a key advocate for the PATRIOT Act. My belief is conservatives and libertarians will realize that few congressmen have had more success in tangibly destroying their freedoms and enhancing the power of the state vis a vis the power of the individual. Republicans will do well nationally thanks to a pro-freedom wave in the face of President Obama’s seamless garment of big government.

After Lungren loses, commentators will scratch their heads and wonder why Lungren bucked that tide. But the same tide that will dump Obama is likely to dump Lungren. It will replace him with someone equally hostile to freedom, but elections are always imperfect vehicles to make important points.

OCT. 28, 2012


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