Sunday, July 10, 2005

Public (Ab)use Takings

This Blog is dedicated to issues concerning the Concho Valley. We leave national policy to other sites and avoid partisan issues. The U. S. Supreme Court decided to go out with a bang that resonates all the way down to City Hall, so I feel free to take up the issues raised in its last case, Kelo v New London. For benefit of anyone just returning from a vacation in Antarctica, the case allowed the city of New London to take by emminent domain property owned by Kelo, along with several hundred others. The properties in question were unblighted, functioning, tax paying tracts, both residential and commercial. New London had in mind a mega-project which it thought would generate more profitable, and more highly taxable use.

At its last meeting, City Council spoke unanimously in opposition to the decision. The members' hearts were in the right place, but they were at a loss to come up with an effective, immediate response. Fortunately, a special session of the Texas State Legislature had been called to deal with school finance. Our local Representative, Scott Campbell, co-authored and immediately introduced HJR19, a proposed State Constitutional Amendment, which would prohibit any Texas government, state, city, or county, from using emminent domain for economic development puposes.

This proposal had to be styled as a joint resolution, as no business not specifically authorized by the Governor can be considered by a special session. I am happy to report that as of Friday afternoon, Governor Perry added this issue to the call of the special session. In that both House and Senate resolutions on the issue have a sufficient number of co-sponsors to pass the amendment in each body, we can now comfortably predict this amendment will be added to the Nov. 8 ballot along with 9 other constitutional propositions.

I do not pretend to read the minds of others, so it is impossible to say whether the Governor was inspired to this by the literally hundreds of thousands of calls, letters, and e-mails his office received or by the fact that his primary opponent Carol Strayhorn was scheduled to hold a major media event late Friday and slap him upside the head with his reluctance to move on it, but either way, it worked. Now thee and me have a chance to correct the bad call by the High Court, at least in Texas.

I cannot overstate the importance of this amendment. Rep. Frank Corte of San Antonio and our own Scott Campbell introduced HJR19 as quickly as legally possible, but they were behind the city of Freeport, Texas. Within hours of the Supreme Court's decision, Freeport filed emminent domain against several property owners who had stood in the way of that city's waterfront development dream. When I say "This could happen to you", I mean it literally. The Institute for Justice has recorded over 10,000 such cases, many of which IJ defended for owners without deep pockets, and this was before Kelo really opened the door.

The Texas Municipal League has issued a statement that the decision "was good for Texas cities", it would let them manage economic development as the city fathers saw fit. The Texas Municipal League is a lobbying interest group which is supported by every city in Texas, San Angelo included.

What you as a voter can do is two-fold. First and foremost, plan to vote for the amendment (it does not yet have a name) in the Nov. election. If you are not registered, you must register at least 30 days prior to Nov. 8, or by October 7, a Friday. You can vote early for two weeks before election day in person at the office above the library, Sunday included. You can vote by mail, you can vote from jail (if uncovicted of a felony). If you happen to be aboard the space shuttle, Texas Election code 106.002 allows you to vote from outer space! Please don't tell me you can't find time to vote.

Second, call your City Council Member. If you are unsure which one is yours, call 659-6541 and a friendly elections clerk will tell you. Tell your member, one of the unanimous voices last Tuesday, that you want San Angelo to tell the Texas Municipal League it can reverse its stance on emminent domain or call San Angelo a former supporter.

If this sounds like I have digressed into a bit of civics 101 on how to cast a ballot, well, I have. I want this amendment approved by such a margin that every village in Texas will think three times before even uttering the term "emminent domain".

I also have a touch of personal pride here. The very last legal precedent cited by Justice O'Conner in her dissent refers to the, her words, the "infamous decision in Poletown", a Michigan case which allowed GM to bulldoze 28,000 residents out of the way of a plant GM wanted. I quote, "This is why economic development takings seriously jeopardize the security of all private property ownership. 304 NW 2nd at 465 (Judge Ryan, J., dissenting)". Guess it runs in the family.

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