When Mississippi voters go to the polls on Tuesday to elect a new governor and legislature, they will also be handed three ballot initiatives, including one that would restrict the state’s ability to expropriate land under eminent domain laws.
At the heart of this initiative is the 2005 US Supreme Court case Kelo v City of New London. In that case, the justices ruled 5-4 that the state of Connecticut could take the home owned by Suzette Kelo and turn it over to a private developer, who wanted to put up a hotel, condos and a shopping complex.
“We’ve just looked around the country and seen what’s happening in other states and we’re just trying to be proactive,” said Randy Knight, who is leading the charge for passage of 31. “We’re trying to put out the fire before it gets here.”
Knight is a Mississippi dairy farmer and president of the state Farm Bureau Federation. The Farm Bureau is the driving force behind the initiative — taking the issue to the people after Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed two similar measures that came from the Legislature.
“We just don’t think the government has the power or the authority to take private land and turn it over to someone else for economic development,” Knight told Fox News.
The Farm Bureau has mounted an aggressive campaign of billboards, radio and Internet ads imploring voters to “stop eminent domain abuse.” Opponents of Initiative 31 say that’s just plain misleading.
“They’re running billboards that say stop eminent domain abuse. What abuse? Show me a victim,” said Leland Speed, the director of Mississippi’s Development Authority.
Speed says the only recent example of the state taking property is in Blue Springs — near Tupelo. There, the state took land from a church to build a Toyota assembly plant. The grand opening is next week.
But the church had closed down in 1927. The land was abandoned — no owner could be found to see if they wanted to sell to Toyota. The state put $330,000 in a trust account. No one has come forward to claim it.
Speed says if Initiative 31 passes, it could kill the type of jobs projects that the state put together with Toyota.
“I have had an opportunity to see what is necessary to attract mega-projects and what has to happen,” he said. “And this totally messes up our ability to compete effectively.”
Bishop Ronnie Crudup of the New Horizon Church agrees. He has campaigned in barbershops and other venues across the city, hoping to get people to vote against 31.
“Talk radio, been on television and different things like that, talking about it just to let them know this is bad for the state of Mississippi. We need to do everything we can to encourage job creation and to do something that would shoot ourselves in the foot,” Crudup said.
Supporters of the measure dismiss talk that Initiative 31 will be a jobs killer.