Return to story

The proper(ty) choice

October 11, 2012 12:10 am



ONCE VOTERS wade through the parade of candidates on the ballot in Virginia on Nov. 6, their work is not yet done. Farther down is an amendment to the state constitution. And anyone who now owns or ever hopes to own property in Virginia should vote "yes" on it.

Question 1 would limit the ability of condemning authorities to exercise eminent domain in "taking" private property. These authorities--state and local governments, utilities, and agencies such as VDOT--were handed a trump card by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2005 Kelo vs. City of New London decision. The court ruled that New London, Conn., could take Susette Kelo's little pink house and give the space to an economic-development agency with a grand plan (which, by the way, never came to fruition).

The decision no doubt sent sundry Founding Fathers spinning in their graves. It flies in the face of a foundational assumption of this nation: that private property is next door to sacred. "Property must be secured, or liberty cannot exist," wrote John Adams. Only as a last resort should the government take private property. Yet Kelo lets governments seize anyone's land and give it to some third-party entity that can, in the state's eye, make "better" use of it.

In 2007, the General Assembly passed a law that was a step toward shielding Virginians from Kelo's imperious credo. But laws can be voided once the public's eye shifts and lobbyists woo legislators. That's why enshrining Kelo protection in the state constitution is essential.

Make no mistake, powerful forces would love to break the statutory chains binding Kelo in the Old Dominion. Local governments would covet the chance, for example, to take property owned by a small business and turn it over to GigantiCorp, the better to reap heftier tax revenues. Utilities would prefer to pay bottom dollar for land they need. And when highway construction bisects a farm or limits access to a business, VDOT would like to pare its compensation to a minimum.

The Virginia Association of Counties opposes Q. 1, saying that it "will greatly increase the cost of compensating property owners for changes in access to their properties that courts have previously ruled are not compensable." Translation: Owners will have to be paid what their property is worth. Horrors! VACO's position on the matter inspired Goochland County to quit the organization on principle, while Spotsylvania supervisors also threatened to bolt. That cooled VACO down some.


Astoundingly, however, the Democratic Party of Virginia's State Central Committee recently passed a resolution against the ballot measure, complaining that it "would add to the complexity and expense of governmental entities seeking to utilize eminent domain" and duplicate measures already in the Virginia Code.

The Democrats evidently have forgotten that theirs is reputedly the party of the common man. In putting a higher value on protecting government and its big-business cronies from "complexity and expense" than on protecting individuals from property seizures that would tickle Mao Zedong, they devalue liberty and side with the big and powerful over the small and weak. And in noting that a Kelo override is already in the code, they ignore the fragility of that merely statutory protection.

What's more, Main Street Democrats disagree with the Central Committee: The liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling firm finds that 42 percent of Virginia Democrats plan to vote for the amendment, while only 22 percent intend to vote "no" (the rest are undecided).

The final reason for the Central Committee's opposition stated in its anti-populist resolution is a masterpiece of juvenilia: "Whereas Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli strongly supports the amendment " That's enough to make the Dems dismiss it? It's tempting to offer the Blue Team some motherly logic: "If The Cooch supported eating healthy foods and exercising, would you oppose that?"

Question 1 buttresses property rights, protecting homes, businesses, and neighborhoods from officialdom's connivance. Will it sometimes stymie condemning authorities or make them pay more to take a person's land? Yes! That critics see this as a liability, not a virtue, says less about Q. 1 than them.

Protect your rights: Vote yes on Question 1.


Who said, "The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property"? Who said, "As long as our government secures to us the rights of persons and of property, it will be worth defending"?

Answer: The gentlemen who lend their names, respectively, to the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners that Democratic Central Committepersons seldom fail to attend.

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.