This is the sixth regular legislative session for Gov. Haley Barbour, and for all of that time the House has given him fits and the Senate has, for the most part, given him what he wanted.
That didn’t change on the eminent domain issue. What did change were the political dynamics.
Some of Barbour’s staunchest Republican allies in the Senate opposed him on eminent domain, while 11 of the 27 Senate Democrats stood with him. So while the governor got a familiar result – help from the Senate, which put the brakes on the House – it was a whole different scenario than usual. Even in the House, the usually rock-solid 47 Republican voting bloc crumbled on the issue.
Both the House and Senate had overwhelmingly passed a bill prohibiting government from forcing the sale of someone’s land for use by other private interests. Only three House members and no senators voted against it. Populist sentiment against the idea of government forcing somebody off their property, even at a fair market price, for reasons other than government projects like road or school construction, couldn’t be any stronger than those vote totals suggest.
But Barbour – as well as the state’s business leaders and economic development professionals -see eminent domain is an essential tool to attract mega-projects like Toyota that require cobbling together multiple pieces of land and in which one holdout landowner has the potential to squelch the whole thing. The greater public good of those private-sector projects justifies using eminent domain as a last resort, they argue.