Staff Columnist

Iowa Democrats, the party of Helen Lovejoy

Debate over traffic cameras exposes true intentions

HOLD FOR RELEASE ON THURSDAY, OCT. 27, 2011, AT 12:01 A.M. - FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2010 file photo, a red light camera setup is seen in Los Angeles. One out of every five American lives in a community that outsources its enforcement of traffic violations caught by red light cameras to private vendors, according to a report by a consumer advocacy group. In many cases, those vendors a direct financial incentive to issue more tickets and to try to block alternative means of traffic enforcement. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
HOLD FOR RELEASE ON THURSDAY, OCT. 27, 2011, AT 12:01 A.M. - FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2010 file photo, a red light camera setup is seen in Los Angeles. One out of every five American lives in a community that outsources its enforcement of traffic violations caught by red light cameras to private vendors, according to a report by a consumer advocacy group. In many cases, those vendors a direct financial incentive to issue more tickets and to try to block alternative means of traffic enforcement. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

Iowa Democrats came down with a case of Lovejoy syndrome last week in Des Moines.

That’s a condition inspired by Helen Lovejoy, the minister’s wife in the animated TV series, “The Simpsons.” Lovejoy is known for her emotional outbursts during community meetings in fictional Springfield, crying out “Won’t somebody please think of the children!?”

Democratic lawmakers apparently were channeling Lovejoy during the debate over automated traffic cameras in the Iowa Senate. They repeatedly played the what-about-the-children card in their failed attempt to block legislation that would ban the devices.

“We don’t care about safety and we don’t care about workers and we don’t care about children. That’s how I could sum up this whole legislative session,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines.

Senate File 2148 would require local governments to remove the traffic surveillance devices, which are meant to catch those who speed or run red lights. The bill cleared the Iowa Senate last Tuesday, with most Republicans in support and most Democrats opposed.

Pay attention and you will see the Lovejoy doctrine is prevalent in politics. Advocates from all sides use the ploy to stir up emotional support when their policies can’t be supported by facts.

Don’t be fooled. If they say it’s about the children, it’s almost always about the money.

After fellow lawmakers rejected his amendment to allow speed cameras near schools, Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, called it “the worst vote I’ve ever seen.” Yet Bisignano went on to reveal his true reason for keeping cameras in place — revenue.

State analysts predict a camera ban would cut $3.1 million of local revenue from Bisignano’s hometown of Des Moines. During the debate, he called out Republican senators by name and told them how much their home districts would lose in missed traffic citations.

Unfortunately for big government spenders, there is a huge mess of legitimate problems with the way Iowa communities have implemented traffic surveillance in recent years. The cameras do not operate inside the legitimate legal system, but instead under fake rules imagined by local governments and their business partners.

I share critics’ concerns about the constitutionality of corporate robots accusing individuals of crimes, with no opportunity for the alleged offenders to face their accusers.

Even worse is that cameras allow the government to gather and store an enormous amount of data about the movement of citizens.

While local governments insist the license plate data they’re collecting won’t be used for evil, we know anytime this sort of information exists, there is a threat of abuse by other government agencies or private hackers.

It is no stretch to imagine some overstepping president using the system to hunt down undocumented immigrants, for example.

Democrats defending traffic surveillance last week said such privacy concerns are based on “philosophical arguments” from anti-government Republicans.

Yet even advocates from the American Civil Liberties Union — hardly right-wing conspiracy theorists — have long argued to restrict the use of cameras in public spaces, writing in a policy brief, “history has shown that surveillance technologies put in place for one purpose inevitably expand into other uses.”

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I realize politicians are addicted to money, but it’s dishonest to parade your revenue schemes around as public safety projects — even if you say it’s for the children.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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