State Rep. Steven Palazzo’s loyalty to Gov. Haley Barbour during a tough 2009 veto fight over the contentious issue of eminent domain is coming back to haunt him in the 2010 mid-term congressional election.

    The political debate over eminent domain laws in Mississippi reached fever pitch in 2009 as part of the national backlash against a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expanding government authority to take private land. Since the high court ruled 5-4 in 2005 in Kelo vs. City of New London, Conn., that the city had the authority to take homes for a private development project, 43 states have enacted laws aimed at neutering eminent domain.

Loyal to Barbour

    Since 2005 in Mississippi, such legislation died in conference committee. But in 2009, House Bill 803 — legislation that would prohibit the use of eminent domain laws for certain economic development purposes — passed the Legislature by overwhelming majorities. Barbour vetoed the bill.

    But Barbour came close to losing his perfect veto record last year when some fellow Republicans turned on him in the battle over eminent domain. But Barbour enlisted help from loyal Republicans like Palazzo and Democrats to stave off that challenge in the state Senate after the House voted to override Barbour’s veto of the eminent domain bill.

    The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation has delivered what appears to be more than the necessary certified petition signatures necessary to put the eminent domain issue on the ballot for a 2011 statewide initiative-and-referendum vote. The measure is designed to let voters decide on a proposal to prevent the taking of private property to give to private developers. Opponents like Barbour warn it could stifle some economic projects.

Taylor raises issue

    In his increasingly tight congressional campaign to unseat incumbent Democratic 4th District U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, Taylor has made Palazzo’s HB 803 vote against the strong eminent domain legislation backed by the Farm Bureau, the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Taxpayers Union an issue.

    Palazzo responded to the Taylor attack ad on the eminent domain issue by saying:

    “The bill I voted against was not, in my view, strong enough in terms of protecting private property rights. I wanted more guarantees and protection that was more clearly written to not contradict other code sections such as ports, airports, major economic act, housing authorities, etc.”

    Say what, Steve? Palazzo indeed voted in favor of allowing government to take private property for major economic development projects, just as Barbour has long advocated — and against serious restrictions of eminent domain. What’s unclear now is just why Palazzo won’t just own up to that vote. His obfuscation isn’t really helping him.

    Contact Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com. Visit his blog at clarionledger.com. His talk radio show, On Deadline with Sid Salter, is broadcast on the SuperTalk Mississippi network.

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