- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The beauty of the American system of government - and what sets us apart from Europe - is that we can effect a policy revolution without relying on the political establishment to set things in motion. Several first-time Republican candidates are polling within striking distance of incumbents long believed to be invulnerable. Add to the list of Election Day’s must-watch races five contests heating up in Houston and Baytown, Texas; Anaheim, Calif.; Mukilteo, Wash.; and Garfield Heights, Ohio. Residents in those localities became so fed up with the lies elected officials told them about red-light and speed cameras that they overruled local leaders and forced votes on banning the machines.

With the exception of Anaheim, where the mayor himself led the uprising, politicians foisted automated ticketing machines on an unwilling public with lofty assertions about “saving lives.” Reliable studies show the systems are more effective at generating money than safety, and the public has caught on. Since 1991, residents in 10 cities have rejected cameras, with 61 percent in Sykesville, Md., voting against them in May.

The upcoming referendum contests are just the beginning. Arizona Citizens Against Photo Radar Chairman Shawn Dow told The Washington Times that he will circulate initiative petitions in all 14 Grand Canyon State jurisdictions that use cameras. This is a credible threat, as his all-volunteer group collected more than 120,000 signatures demanding a statewide ban - a number that fell just short of the legal requirement.

The outrageous conduct of local officials ensures no shortage of inspiration for anti-camera activists. Alexandria, Va., shamelessly cut one second from the duration of the yellow light at South Patrick and Gibbon streets, hoping to boost the haul from its installed but not-yet-operational red-light camera. A traffic engineer working for the National Motorists Association documented how Virginia Beach officials failed to follow legally required engineering principles in setting a yellow time that’s a half-second short at Kempsville and Indian River roads, with the deficit accounting for 52 percent of the automated tickets generated.

Maryland is no better, with newly minted “school zones” created on pedestrian-free high-volume roads that don’t lead to any school as an excuse to install cash-grabbing machines. Individuals who want to contest automated fines in Forest Heights are still waiting for a court date - while under threat of a car-registration hold for failure to pay the photo ticket.

In Maryland and Virginia, referendum procedures are either onerous or nonexistent. That means the best way to defeat ticket cameras there is to elect officials on the right side of this issue. The Old Line State has an especially clear choice this November, as Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who vetoed speed-camera legislation when he held office, faces off against Democratic Gov. Martin J. O’Malley, who wants to install some kind of camera on just about every street corner. A critical mass of executive, legislative and popular action to ban robotic ticketing in the year ahead might force the private companies that operate the devices to seek honest work in another field.

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