In most, if not every, state in the nation, there are two instances in which a trial requires a 12-person jury: When the death penalty is at stake and when private property is being taken from an individual.
One case in Florida is the epitome of government ineptitude, bureaucratic stubbornness, and unnecessary costs to the taxpayers. It's an example of why people want government out of their lives.
Some years back, Florida, through its Department of Agriculture and in cooperation with the federal government, relied on specious scientific research to determine that every citrus tree in the state that was within 1,900 feet or so of another tree that was infected with "citrus canker" had to be destroyed. That meant a lot of citrus trees, because Florida is studded with them.
Based on the same type of inconclusive science that brought us such apocalyptic claims as global warming, hundreds of thousands of perfectly healthy trees were destroyed in a state where citrus trees are considered a unique feature of the region's beauty.
People lost trees without real redress — that is, until lawsuits were filed in at least four major counties in Florida asking for fair compensation for the felling of trees. The eradication of so many healthy trees was justified on the basis of a scientific study that later was deemed inconclusive, leading to the abrupt end of the "canker eradication" program.
All of this is inside baseball to most people. (Grapefruit League, no doubt!) But here is where this story becomes emblematic of the whole "nanny state" mentality that we are seeing increasingly across the nation, much of which leads to wasteful spending and additional costs incurred by government.
In the case of these trees, the agriculture commissioner's office in Florida fought any effort to compensate individuals for their losses. That, even as the state managed to pay a private law firm many millions of dollars to fight the citizens who were affected.
Then came jury awards of around $24 million in two of Florida's largest counties, Palm Beach and Broward. But the state continued to resist, despite the fact that all sorts of interest and fees were accruing. Its appeals led all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, which refused to even hear the state's case.
This is so typical of what we have seen in state after state, and certainly in recent years in Washington. Bureaucrats and legislators create endless new rules and regulations basically because they have nothing better to do.
What usually ends up happening is that the new programs, regulations or requirements don't work. Endless taxpayer money is wasted, and the bright idea of some elected official or government bureaucrat quietly drifts into the garbage can, where resides other well-intended or publicity-seeking, ego-driven actions that went awry.
And of course the only people who benefit from such nonsense are the politicians and the lawyers who take the government's money to "help" solve the problem.
Is there any wonder why the spirit of the tea party continues to ride the backs of Republicans in the Congress, demanding a shutdown of the government to prove to the political world that real fiscal cuts and real reductions in the size of government must happen?
Here's a warning to every Republican elected official in this country: Don't talk the talk if you can't walk the walk. These voters meant business last November, and if you become just another elected official fighting for the cause of government for government's sake, you are going to face serious opposition the next time you stand for re-election. And merely tinkering with issues like government waste and spending won't suffice anymore.
Meanwhile, the Republican-dominated Florida state government would rather keep fighting an unwinnable battle for a misguided program, and racking up more expenses in the process, all just to prove a point.
I think we all get the point. If government can decide to bring chainsaws onto private property to cut down trees, including healthy trees, what's next?
We might just have to ask another jury of voters. Or an electorate of millions.
Matt Towery is author of the new book, "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.
© Creators Syndicate Inc.