By Tom Givón
The recent debate among the Sheriff candidates (Durango Herald, Sept. 8-9) suggests a striking parallel between the national spate over illegal migrants and Durango's homeless debacle.
It matters little that the involvement of the Sheriff's office in this sorry affair is, in principle, peripheral. The homeless problem is a quintessential Durango problem, arising from the conflation of well-known factors of geography and socio-culture.
It is also a national problem that has stymied governments at multiple levels for decades. The Durango City Council, in its growing desperation, has tried to unload this ungainly mess on - or "share" it with - La Plata County. The Sheriff and his nominal bosses, the Board of County Commissioners, have rightfully resisted, pointing out to decisions and legal warnings by the Federal Ninth Circuit Court, the U.S. Dept. of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Rather than debate real county sheriff issues, such as law enforcement priorities, experience, intertwined jurisdictions, shrinking budgets, one candidate, Charles Hamby, has chosen to focus his campaign against Sheriff Sean Smith on Durango's homeless conundrum. The ACLU is quoted in the Herald's report as reminding us: "... La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith recognized that the city had insufficient shelter space and that ticketing homeless people for camping when they had nowhere else to go was not only cruel, but also unconstitutional ..." The real culprits, the Ninth Federal Circuit Court and the Dept. of Justice, have indeed pointed to a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.
Mr. Hamby, however, has chosen to focus his criticism on a well known dog-whistle target; to wit:
"... If they are in violation of the law, I'll enforce the law ... I am not going to be intimidated or bullied by the ACLU ..."
Brave words; shades of John Wayne at the fort's gate.
Put another way, Mr. Hamby proposes, as our would-be sheriff, to let a local law trump both the federal courts and the U.S. Constitution, which county sheriffs in Colorado are sworn to uphold and defend.
Mr. Hamby has also, conveniently, shifted his target from the all-powerful federal courts and the U.S. Department of Justice to that nefarious organization, the ACLU, an ultra-liberal outfit loaded to the gills with less-than-truly-American, shady Eastern characters. Whistle, whistle.
In the process, Mr. Hamby, a charter member and chosen candidate of the Liberty Coalition of La Plata County, has placed civil liberties outside the bounds of our constitutionally-protected Liberties.
Mr. Hamby's twin gambit, focusing his campaign on those powerless Others, the homeless in our midst, and on the not-quite-native ACLU, has lifted a page from the book of both his sponsors in the Liberty Coalition and his apparent spiritual hero, Donald J. Trump: The rule of law and the U.S. Constitution, as adjudicated by the courts, be damned.
We, the True Natives with our shining wall, are ready to defend this beleaguered Republic against all those funny- looking, criminally-inclined Others; of which the Durango homeless are but the most visible local installment. One wonders what would happen if La Plata County had passed a law challenging the jurisdiction of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe over the external boundaries of their reservation. Would Charles Hamby insist then on enforcing such a law against the federal courts, the justice deparmtent and the dread ACLU?
Lastly, as my friend Steve Boos reminds me, a federal court case just across state line in southern Utah, filed on behalf of disenfranchised Navajo and Ute voters, will likely cost San Juan County, Utah between $5 million to $6 million in attorney fees alone when the dust settles down.
This is on top of another half a million dollars San Juan County has been assessed in another, more recent, civil rights case. What Mr. Hamby proposes to do - violating civil rights and federal court orders in chest-thumping defiance of the ACLU - is an invitation to get La Plata County embroiled in some rather expensive litigation.
Tom Givón ranches near Ignacio. He can be reached at email@example.com.