By Gene Hall
I read this week an endorsement from an obscure Austin paper that advised against voting for Proposition 11. I will not mention their name here because I don’t want to lend legitimacy to an irrelevant publication. Like many newspapers these days, they may fail some day soon because they ignore public opinion at a time when many printed newspapers face incredible odds of survival.
The recommendation said something about “eminent domain hysteria” that is sweeping the state. Hysteria? Come on. I think a better word is “passion.” Texas has talked so long and so often about private property rights that some fail to understand that the reality does not match the rhetoric. This is the case with Proposition 11. This amendment is needed to fix the abuses generated by the U.S. Supreme Court case of 2005—“Kelo v. New London.” The court, in that case, inexplicably ruled that those with eminent domain power may take private property and give it to another private entity for economic development. But, the court also ruled that states may make their own law. Proposition 11 is Texas’ response.
It is true that Proposition 11 is the beginning, not the end of eminent domain reform. We do have some misguided souls out there actually advocating defeat of Proposition 11 because it does not accomplish everything we set out to do. That’s like refusing to eat your steak because you don’t like the potatoes served with it. The folks over at the anti-toll road shop—TURF—are making this wrong headed argument. In fact, Proposition 11 can be viewed as a referendum on future eminent domain reform. We need to pass it with 70 percent margins. When this happens it will represent a mandate for future eminent domain reform.
The people opposing Proposition 11 fall into two categories. There are those turning down a half loaf because they can’t have it all, choosing to starve instead. Then of course, there are those who would prefer to take private property, do it on the cheap and redirect ownership of private property to others in order to collect more tax revenue. The latter group deserves to be the target of “hysteria” or “passion.”
Both these groups are out there, and there is a chance they could do some damage. Too many people have worked too hard for too long to allow that to happen. In the handful of days remaining, we should all do those last minute things that can assure Proposition 11 passes overwhelmingly. Take a look at your Christmas card list and send a note to everyone urging a “Yes Vote.” Send an email to everyone in you address book. Stop by the Kiwanis or Rotary Club and let everyone know. Keep talking about Proposition 11 until the polls close next Tuesday.
If Proposition 11 fails, or even if it passes by a whisker, the eminent domain reform effort will be badly damaged. Until meaningful reform is achieved all the talk about Texas, with a “proud tradition of property rights” will be “all hat and no cattle.”