Can a conservative support a smoking ban? Let’s ask the father of the modern conservative movement, William F Buckley Jr. Some two months before his death of smoking-related emphysema, Buckley endorsed not just a smoking ban in workplaces, but a total ban on smoking.
Stick me in a confessional and ask the question: Sir, if you had the authority, would you forbid smoking in America? You'd get a solemn and contrite, Yes. Solemn because I would be violating my secular commitment to the free marketplace. Contrite, because my relative indifference to tobacco poison for so many years puts me in something of the position of the Zyklon B defendants after World War II.
Mr Buckley was an articulate man and he chose his words carefully. He doesn’t qualify his statement to read, “in bars and restaurants” or “in public”-—he’s talking a total ban. Buckley acknowledges that a ban on smoking would indeed violate a conservative’s “secular commitment to a free marketplace.” This was a concern of Jon Costas too, and the challenge for Costas—-like for Buckley—-was how to reconcile commitment to the free market to commitment to having a healthy city. More than a year before Buckley’s near-death-bed confession, Costas told the press:
"It does involve some basic rights, and that's why it's emotional," Costas said. "Government is about balancing interests. The interests we're concerned about are business and property rights as well as occupational health."
Jon Costas is one of Indiana’s most successful mayors because he exercises leadership to build consensus. That doesn’t always mean everyone agrees, but everyone gets heard.
The smoking ban in Valparaiso was discussed in a formal committee for over a year. Not everyone favored the ban. In fact, local bar and restaurant owner (and committee member) Russ Adams was strongly opposed, claiming, “I believe we shouldn't be told how to operate our businesses.” By the way, Russ and Nancy Adams have been (and probably continue to be) strong supporters of the Mayor. Another committee member was Joey Larr, an on-again, off-again smoker who has probably cast more votes against Costas (and picked more fights with Costas in Council meetings) than any other member of Council.
The committee gathered evidence and sought public input. Several open forums were held. They were flooded with mail and the letters-to-the-editor debates became vigorous. The committee hired the Chair of the Political Science department at Valparaiso University, Larry Baas, to conduct an extensive survey of Valparaiso residents. Baas found a strong majority supporting a potential ban. He concluded:
“In the case of the Valparaiso smoking ban, the ordinance very closely approximates what most of the citizens of Valparaiso, at this point in time, actually want.”
The people supported the ban, and so did the local papers, with the Times declaring:
“Valparaiso should enact this proposed ban, and other communities should follow suit.”
Which is exactly what happened, when nearby Crown Point (also considered one of the better-governed cities in Northwest Indiana) passed a smoking ban modeled on the success of Valparaiso’s.
Smokers had the opportunity to mobilize and turn Costas out of office in the 2007 Republican Mayoral primary when one of the ordinance’s opponents, Councilman Bob McCasland, ran against Costas in part based on his opposition to the smoking ban. Even though the ordinance went into effect a month before the election (when smokers would be most upset), McCasland was trounced in the primary.
The process is very important here: the ban was only implemented after a year of consideration that included consulting smokers, non-smokers, restaurants, and bar owners. One of the key changes is that the ban was reduced so it does not apply to bars. In this sense, it is less restrictive than smoking bans in most cities (such as New York) and most countries (Ireland, France, and even Turkey). (Turkey, a democracy, has one of the world’s highest rates of smoking, as I saw first-hand during a visit earlier this month, yet even Turkey will have a stronger ban than Valparaiso’s.) To call Valparaiso’s tailored smoking ban “severe” is out-of-touch with the ban itself and the process for creating it.
Valparaiso is a conservative, majority-Republican city, like most of Indiana. Yet the smoking ban had a strong majority of people supporting it. Costas addressed the challenge posed by William F Buckley by involving as many people as possible and asking them to come to a reasonable consensus. The Valparaiso smoking ban is the result of that consensus. This is just one of the reasons that Jon Costas has a favorability rating in Valparaiso of over 70%, had no Democrat opponent in ’07, and is widely considered one of Indiana’s most successful mayors.