Politics of eminent domain

As you probably know if you’re interested in this issue, Governor Tom Vilsack at 1:30 p.m. Friday, June 2, 2006 announced he had vetoed the eminent domain bill.

It’s an unusual fight for an out-going governor to pick.  Vilsack’s comments during the news conference indicated he’d been swayed by the arguments of city & county officials as well as economic development types who say the new restrictions on the authority governments have to seize private property for economic development projects would hamper projects like a municipal airport planned in Pella and the extension of a rail spur to a plant in Dyersville.

He didn’t mention the concerns raised by backers of large lakes in southern Iowa, so I asked him about it at the news conference.  Here’s his answer: 

"My primary focus was the issue of jobs and that’s my primary concern.  Now I realize that there are strong passions about these lake projects both in terms of the taking of private property and adequate water supply for growing communities and tourism and recreational opportunities that could be obtained," Vilsack replied.  "That’s a balance.  It’s a difficult balance.  I’m not suggesting this is easy but we need to work at it to figure out how we can assure people that we are protecting their interests, giving them an opportunity to have a meaningful say in the process, giving them an opportunity to convince city officials, county officials that this is not the proper action and then of course, frankly, in our poltiical process if people are not satisfied with the outcome of a decision that a public official makes, they obviously have things they can do, one of which is to vote for somebody else."

Lots of legislators are not satisfied with Vilsack’s veto.  House Speaker Christopher Rants immediately suggested lawmakers may try to come back in special session to attempt to override Vilsack’s veto.  Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed Fallon said he’s vote for the over-ride, so Rants now has 52 votes.

The GOP may find it difficult to marshall the other Democrat legislators necessary to call themselves back in special session. The top Democrats in the House and Senate both issued statements supportive of Vilsack’s idea of drafting a new bill. If Vilsack calls lawmakers back himself — as he pledged to do if they’ll rewrite the bill — there’s always a possibility things could degenerate to a veto override vote anyway.

Again, it seems an odd fight to pick for someone who wants to start running for president.  Continued negotiations over this will divert his attention from national polictics, and it will give criticis something to pin on him in the presidential sweepstakes — "he’s anti-property owner" they’ll say.  Oops. They’re already saying it. The Institue for Justice just sent me an email with the subject line: Governor Vilsack Turns His Back on Homeowners. Vilsack will counter that he’s not, that he tried to get legislators to be more reasonable.

Maybe the governor can hand out the flow chart he distributed to reporters today showing the process governments must go through today to seize and condemn property.  This is the mother of all flow charts, I can assure you.  Vilsack’s staff even blew it up (to the size of one of those fake checks they hand Lottery winners) so Vilsack could use it as a visual aide during his news conference. Vilsack told reporters this is a great time to "educate" people about eminent domain.  Teach on, governor.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. We are fighting this battle right now. Polk county wants a street for Albaugh industrial park. He has access to the south of the property but county people a going to put in a raod for his easy access to the land. They have already put in a culvert draining water to Mr.&Mrs Robinson’s land to access farm tile. Her lot foods they say eminiate domain. Same for the street which will put motorists on NE 66th ave DesMoines at risk with heavy truck traffic. Money talks who cares if children using the bike trail and schools bus pickups will have trucks turning into their face. Thanks Vilsak another fine mess you have gotten us into.