Eminent Domain

Below please find a recent op-ed by Len Munsil.
Private Property Rights Must Be Protected
by Len Munsil
The words “eminent domain” aren’t used by most of us on a daily basis. There’s a good possibility most folks don’t use the term at all. There’s something about the phrase that sounds vaguely bookish. Certainly it has nothing to do with us, we might conclude. Well, think again.
Since last year’s notorious Kelo v. City of New London U.S. Supreme Court decision, state legislatures across the country have been attempting to enact laws to severely restrict the power of government to seize land for redevelopment.
The government’s ability to take land for public use at fair market value has long been in place. But historically, these takings have been exercised for public uses that enhance the common good, such as building roadways, bridges or hospitals.
But the Kelo decision approved the more recent practice of local governments taking private property for private use. Local governments have been declaring homes and businesses to be “blighted” in order to condemn the property and transfer it to private developers for “revitalization.” The higher tax revenues generated by such takings are economically beneficial for the cities or towns approving such condemnations.
The effect of Kelo was citizen enlightenment and increased scrutiny of development projects. Most people were simply unaware of the government’s enormous power under eminent domain. Here in Arizona, we witnessed the saga of Randy Bailey and the brake shop business which had been in his family for over four decades. The City of Mesa, salivating at the prospect of a higher income stream from the taxes generated by a nationally franchised hardware store, made the decision to force the taking of the brake shop through the use of eminent domain.
Randy Bailey was fortunate. The Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice took his case, and argued that Mesa had abused its powers. The Arizona Constitution clearly prohibits the taking of private property for private use. After lengthy litigation and several disappointments, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled against Mesa’s ability to condemn private businesses and homes in order to transfer such properties to other private individuals.
But the problem is not going away anytime soon. The Institute for Justice notes that in the five years preceding 2003, there were in excess of 10,000 reported cases of cities and towns attempting to enforce provisions of eminent domain for economic development projects.
Incredibly, Janet Napolitano supports such government sanctioned overreaches. She vetoed legislative attempts to protect private property, saying such bills were “excessive….severely limiting the ability of cities to deal with urban blight,” and claiming that these restraints on the government will lead to “criminal and gang activity.” Napolitano seems to have forgotten that crime prevention is the job of police and prosecutors, not central government planners. Perhaps that explains why Arizona’s crime rate has become the highest in the nation on her watch.
Unlike Napolitano, I believe private property ownership is more than a temporarily granted privilege subject to being taken by the government. The right to own and control private property is a fundamental right, essential to our freedom. We must stop playing “bureaucrat knows best” with this cherished right.
As governor, I will fight eminent domain abuse and support protection for Arizona’s property owners.