Thursday, June 15, 2006

Eminent Domain: Vilsack's veto + Gronstal's spin = a Republican win

Friday, June 2, 2006:

Governor Tom Vilsack vetoed HF 2351, a bill for an act relating to government authority, including eminent domain authority and condemnation procedures…, which had passed the House 89 to 5 and the Senate by 43 to 6.

“Eminent Domain should always be the last resort for governments needing private property for a public purpose,” he [Vilsack] said. (Vilsack press release)

Monday, June 5, 2006:

The City Council of New London Connecticut voted to evict Susette Kelo and the other plaintiffs from their waterfront property.

"These council members always say they've received hundreds of messages of support that they never disclose," says Cristofaro (Kelo case co-plaintiff), one of the two holdout homeowners. "I can tell you, I've gone to every city council meeting for the last year, and there are always at least 15 people who speak against this project, and nobody who speaks in favor of it." (Reason Online)

"Finally, I'd had enough," he (Kelo case co-plaintiff William Von Winkle) said. "In the beginning, they took possession of the property — kicked the doors in and kicked my tenants out. They put barricades in the street, and they did everything possible to harass me, to make me sell." …

… "I worked 23 years to put this together. I paid cash. I had no mortgages," he said. "No American should be forced out of their home like this." (LA Times)

Tomorrow is the first round political deadline for sorting out Vilsack’s veto. The House & Senate Republicans sent out letters to members asking for a special session to override the veto; however, Senate Democrats are not on the same page. Senate Democrat Leader Mike Gronstal sent a letter asking members to open a special session to rewrite the bill.

Gronstal wants to come back to craft a bipartisan eminent domain law, of course this ignores the fact that the vetoed bill passed in regular session with overwhelming majorities. But that’s not Mike Gronstal’s version of bipartisan; no, his definition of bipartisan has something to do with all sorts of bending by other people. It’s a visually arresting version of the art of compromise.

Once we’re past the first round maneuvers that set the lines for this political scrum, then the stories start to weigh on this debate. The Republicans are already working this angle with Monday’s press conference highlighting average Iowans dealings with the economic development eminent domain bullies. From a House GOP press release:

…Brian Walker, from Essex, says without this legislation, it is possible that a proposed lake would take away 80 percent of his farming operation.

“Under current eminent domain laws, cities can manipulate regulations to suit their purposes under the guise of ‘public use,’ and then take land and give it to other private entities,” he said. “We need this bill more than ever to protect people like me and my family.”

Doug Robbins of Osceola echoed Walker. A proposed lake project in Clarke County would swallow his father’s house and 300 acres of the farm it sits on, which is where Robbins also is employed.

“No one is safe from the threat of eminent domain,” said Robbins. “You can have your property condemned at any time in the name of the development. In my county, people from all walks of life will be affected. This is not about politics, it is about our rights.” …

…The issue has become especially contentious in Mahaska County, where the city of Pella, in bordering Marion County, wants to confiscate land there for an airport.

“We are disenfranchised because we are not represented on the Pella Council, and without this legislation our land will be forced from us,” said Ann Rouwenhorst. “This law means our Board of Supervisors will have a vote, and property owners will have a voice.”

Rick Tuttle of Peru has been a long-time advocate for the legislation. Land that has been in his family since 1902 is threatened by a proposed lake in Madison County.

“I am speaking on behalf of many families,” said Tuttle. “This law would simply make those trying to confiscate private property prove that they, in fact, need it and couldn’t take any more than they need.” …
Do these average Iowa Joes and Joellens make compelling witnesses to the potential abuses of eminent domain for economic development? On their own probably not, but link their passion for this issue with the upcoming July media circus surrounding the forced evictions of Susette Kelo and her co-plaintiffs, with the upcoming August news coverage of the ubiquitous Mr. Archie Brooks and his involvement with the Des Moines ZZ Records case, and this issue will end up the political talk of September and perhaps October.

Vilsack’s ill timed and politically motivated veto coupled with Gronstal’s absurd call for a new bipartisan bill is just one more sweet gift hand delivered to Republicans. Between the CIETC goofiness and all the foot dragging on protecting the rights of Iowa property owners, Iowa Democrats are tossing any national election year advantage and working overtime to help level the campaign playing field -- and I’m guessin’ Republicans secretly want to thank Vilsack and Gronstal for all the help.

So, what party does Gov. Vilsack belong to?
I will guess he is a Democrat. Why you ask. Not one paper I have read says what his party is and the percieved bias is the papers do not want to disclose the entire truth.
If Vilshack, a democrat, had any hopes of a presidential bid - his desire to take away individual property rights takes him out of the running (as if he had a real chance anyway).
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