Portland's historic preservation program manager said that Papi's ornate doors do not conform to the area's historic character.
Papi's restaurant in Portland's Old Port. Credit: CBS 13

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Doors, dogs, and Disney. What do we do when the government runs amok?

This past week, three noteworthy stories appeared in the Bangor Daily News. The first dealt with doors. Specifically, imported Puerto Rican doors installed at a trendy new Portland bar.

A city employee ordered that the doors be removed before Labor Day. Why? By any measure, they are handsome antiques that look great. The reason was because they “do not conform to the area’s historic character.” The employee was simply enforcing the ordinances that had been enacted by the city council.

The second story arose in Casco. A twenty-something entrepreneur started a doggy daycare. She went to the town, paid her fees, and was given permission to proceed. Neighbors got upset, found out that the town may have made a mistake in granting permission, and filed a lawsuit. The town is now mum.

Finally, the House of Mouse has filed suit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. They argue that the myriad actions taken by the governor are specifically intended to harm the multi-billion dollar conglomerate as retaliation for speaking out against his policy proposals. Since corporations are people, too, Disney has rights under the First Amendment.

These examples highlight a quote famously, albeit erroneously, ascribed to Thomas Jefferson: “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”

None of these items arose in a vacuum. Gov. DeSantis — and his agenda — was reelected by Florida voters in a landslide. Casco and Portland pass ordinances because some of their residents think those ordinances are important.  

And, in fairness, Portland has now hit “pause” on their order to remove the mahogany doors to “reevaluate.” Time will tell what Casco and Florida decide to do.  

Yet each example is a case study in government overreach. Portland’s historic preservation ordinances arose after truly historic buildings were torn down, most notably Union Station. But those buildings were ripped down by the government itself as part of some foolish “urban renewal” theory. It wasn’t done by small businesses installing beautiful doors.

Each new law, ordinance, or regulation is almost always well intentioned. And each, by itself, may not be terribly onerous or difficult to deal with. But the cumulative effect leaves normal citizens facing a faceless, overwhelming behemoth.

The doggy daycare in Casco tried to do everything right. The town told her she was good. And now she is paying lawyers to try and fight back.

Disney is different. They have the resources to go toe-to-toe with the state of Florida. They have a good shot at winning.

These are prime examples where traditional, small government conservatives raise the alarm. You should not need to be a multinational corporation to effectively defend yourself. Yet for citizens, entrepreneurs, and small businesses, the cost of a defense – lawyers aren’t cheap – may sink them even if they win. A pyrrhic victory.

The best way to level the playing field is for politicians to resist the urge to regulate every little thing. Overregulation has contributed to our housing shortage by limiting the construction of new units for decades. Overregulation has created a perverse incentive for residential landlords to jack up rents annually, under a “use it or lose it” rent control regime.  

Overregulation has made an awful alphabet soup of lettered visa types, making it remarkably complicated for would-be new immigrants to follow the paths of generations past.  

For those charged with passing new laws or rules, it is incumbent on them to remember “less is more.” And when the government runs amok, we should recall another saying misattributed to Jefferson: “That government is best, which governs least.”

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.