Norton Defends Small Farmers

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

Norton Defends Small Farmers

by Ari Armstrong, January 18, 2001

Following Armstrong's article is a release from the Libertarian Party and a list of related links.

In the spring, the pink blossoms carpet the valley floor. Later on, my friends and I would jump in the canals to wash off the peach fuzz. Peach farming is hard work. But few have memories of walking through the orchard, finding that perfect peach on its branch, so big you have to hold it with both hands, so juicy you have to lean over to eat it.

My friend Brant Harrison used to visit my grandparents on their peach farm in Palisade. "You know what Brant wants to be?" his dad would tell my grandpa with a hint of concern: "He wants to be a FARMER!" As my grandpa never tired of telling us, without the farmers, Americans would starve to death.

Today, Brant lives with his wife and two children in the same house my grandparents sold him. The orchard on that lot is among the most productive acreage of any land in the Valley. The Valley is changing, though. Some of the land is going back to vineyards, as it was before Prohibition. And some of the land is being developed for housing.

This later trend worries Brant. You see, farming tends to make noise and produce some smells. Some of the newcomers are threatening the farmers' ability to use their own land.

Bush appointee Gale Norton defended farmers like Brant Harrison in a 1989 comment to the Independence Institute. But as is becoming increasingly obvious, no good deed goes unpunished in Washington, D.C. Now, radical environmental groups are blasting Norton for defending property rights.

Norton said, "Interestingly, we might even go so far as to recognize a homesteading right to pollute or make noise in an area." As is common in economics jargon, Norton used the term "pollute" broadly to include things like noise and smells. Obviously, as a former Libertarian, Norton would never condone polluting somebody else's pre-existing property, and as Colorado's Attorney General she fought government polluters, so some are taking her quote out of context.

Brant told me, "People moving in here want the idealistic country life, but they don't realize it has some noises and smells that maybe they weren't ready for. I really commend Gale Norton for what she said. There are a lot of people who claim to defend private property rights, but the way she said it is the way property rights should be. It aggravates me when somebody complains about private property rights, because when people buy this land, they buy it as a farm."

My grandmother Ila Eversol added, "If you live in a farming area, then you've got to put up with people spraying and working in the middle of the night and starting up tractors in the early morning. If you want to live in the middle of the orchards, you should expect that. People should not be able to move into a place and then start complaining about what the farmers are doing; farmers have the right to go on with their business."

One evening, my grandma tells me, the neighbors called the police on my grandpa because he was spraying at night, when the air is calm. The officer showed up and asked my grandpa if he could wait till morning. My grandpa said, "No, I can't," and that was the end of it. The police officer had the good sense to realize that land which has been used for generations to farm comes with certain pre-existing property rights.

Thankfully, last year in Colorado Senator Mark Hillman sponsored the "Right to Farm" bill which helps protect farmers' pre-existing property rights. His bill S-27 was passed by overwhelming majority.

By the way, Brant Harrison is the type of guy environmentalists should love. He grows organic peaches sold in finer markets across the Eastern Slope. The radical environmentalists have dishonored the American farmer with their insensitive comments. Maybe next time, these groups will think before they spin.

2600 Virginia Avenue, NW, Suite 100
Washington DC 20037
World Wide Web:
For release: January 17, 2001
For additional information:
George Getz, Press Secretary
Phone: (202) 333-0008 Ext. 222

Former Libertarian Gale Norton is
'giant leap' for environmental sense

WASHINGTON, DC -- Confirming former Libertarian Party member Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior would be "one giant leap" towards more sensible federal environmental and land-use policies, the Libertarian Party said today.

"The nomination of former Libertarian Gale Norton is one small step for the Republican Party, but one giant leap for Libertarian-style environmental policies," said the party's national director, Steve Dasbach.

"Norton is a refreshing change of pace from the typical knee- jerk, anti-capitalism, tree-worshipping environmentalist -- and that makes her the best possible choice for Secretary of the Interior. She seems to support a sensible free-market environmentalism that balances the need for a healthy planet with the importance of liberty, property rights, and limited government.

"She's more Republican than Libertarian, but may be the best possible nominee that Libertarians could expect from George W. Bush."

Norton, who served as attorney general of Colorado from 1991 to 1998, had an extensive history as a Libertarian Party activist before joining the Republican Party. She was:

* One of two finalists for the position of Libertarian Party national director in 1980.

* The Colorado state coordinator for the Ed Clark for President campaign in 1980.

* A delegate at the Libertarian Party's presidential nominating convention in 1979.

* A Libertarian Party member from 1979-1980.

A coalition of environmental groups opposed to Norton has tried to use her Libertarian Party past to attack her, calling her "an active member of anti-government Libertarian organizations and anti- environmental groups."

But her history with the Libertarian Party actually makes Norton a much better-than-usual Republican, said Dasbach.

"Gale Norton appears to have a generally libertarian mind-set about environmental protection, an appreciation of the value of private property, and an understanding of the limitations of government," he said. "Like Libertarians, Gale Norton wants to protect the environment. We just don't want to destroy property rights and the Constitution to do so.

"If nothing else, Norton seems to be willing to raise some tough questions: Should the federal government control one-third of the land in the United States? Is protecting rocks, trees, and snail darters more important than protecting private property rights? How strictly can the government regulate your land before it violates the Fifth Amendment's taking clause? And do the environment and the free market really need to be mortal enemies? Her nomination could turn an environmental monologue into a genuine, healthy debate."

The Libertarian Party also likes the fact that Norton has criticized the federal government as the "worst polluter in the nation" for the toxic waste left by military bases, government agencies, and military weapons testing centers, said Dasbach.

"Gale Norton seems to recognize that the federal government has done more damage to the environment than all the oil-drillers, timber companies, and big chemical corporations combined," he said. "If she does nothing else as Interior Secretary than stop the federal government from ravaging the environment, she will be a success."

As head of the Interior Department, Norton would manage nearly 500 million acres of government-controlled land, including national parks and wildlife refuges.


The January 18 lead editorial by the Rocky Mountain News defends Norton, noting that her "views on property rights and government 'takings' are sophisticated and informed..." (

The Competitive Enterprise Institute published an article entitled, "Gale Norton Under Assault by Pro-Regulation Greens: Interior Nominee Would Bring Balance and Experience to the Management of Federal Lands" ( The article notes, "Despite a track record of successful land conservation measures, her acknowledgement of the perverse incentives of many government regulations has put her beyond the pale of acceptability for interest groups that believe a heavy-handed bureaucracy is the only way to safeguard environmental quality."

Lynn Scarlett, Executive Director of the Reason Public Policy Institute, argues that Norton is "an articulate champion of property rights" and she has "pursued innovative state and local solutions to problems that respect property rights" (

The following links follow additional information and commentary about Gale Norton:

The Colorado Freedom