Scott McInnis on Eminent Domain

In the comments to my recent post about Dan Maes, “Mike” reminded me about a proposal to expand military lands around Piñon Canyon.

Lynn Bartels writes for the December 10 Denver Post, “Republicans opposed to the military’s Piñon Canyon expansion project are disappointed that property rights weren’t addressed when party leaders unveiled a new platform and rallied around gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis.”

Here is how the Post’s article summarizes the issue: “The Army wants to [expand] its 235,000-acre Piñon Canyon training maneuver area by almost 100,000 acres. The Army has promised to acquire the land only from a willing seller or through a long-term lease, but landowners in the impacted areas in southeastern Colorado fear their property will be seized, adversely-affected or the military will eventually want even more land.”

It is important, then, to distinguish between expansion of the military lands and the use of eminent domain. Property rights do not always protect the owner from being “adversely affected.” For instance, unless you live in an HOA that controls for such things, your neighbor might paint his house an ugly color, park ugly cars in front, and otherwise do things that incidentally reduce the value of your property. So we must limit the discussion to actual violations of property rights, such as the use of eminent domain to forcibly seize property from those unwilling to voluntarily sell it.

According to State Representative Steve King, McInnis said the government “is no longer threatening eminent domain in the Piñon Canyon expansion.” Apparently, then, McInnis’s support of the project assumed that eminent domain would not be used.

However, the Fifth Amendment states that private property may be taken for public use for just compensation. Do McInnis’s critics wish to claim that government ought never use eminent domain, even though the Constitution explicitly authorizes it? That’s my position, but I think McInnis’s critics need to detail their views. If Republicans are going to beat up their candidates for considering eminent domain for an obviously public use, that’s a high bar, and one that should be set intentionally rather than as a pretext for partisan attacks.

Another comment by McInnis on the matter is more troubling. According to the Post, McInnis said, “Balancing the deep need that Colorado has for quality jobs with the rights of Piñon Canyon property owners requires leadership and dialogue.”

I believe that property rights should be consistently protected, not “balanced” against some alleged need to forcibly seize property for somebody else to use. I would be interested to learn if McInnis’s Republican critics believe that eminent domain should be abolished across the board, or if they merely want to restrict the practice to somebody else’s property.

In the meantime, it would be helpful if McInnis would further clarify his views on eminent domain and property rights.

5 thoughts on “Scott McInnis on Eminent Domain

  1. Doug

    The question is whether or not the expasnion of Pinon Canyon is “an obviously public use.” It it’s about jobs, as McInnis says, is that a public use? A governor should not obstruct economic development, but a governor should do all that he/she can to protect the life, liberty and property of the citizens of the state. A governor should not be an agent of the federal government, even the Department of Defense. A governor should not promote the interests of one economic sector; defense contractors in El Paso County, at the expense of another economic sector; agriculture in SE Colorado.

  2. Ari

    Doug,

    You have not answered the question. Do you believe that eminent domain is ever appropriate for government projects? True, the creation of jobs is not legitimately a “public use.” But if the creation of jobs is incidental to a useful government project, then is the use of eminent domain justified?

    I completely agree with you that “a governor should do all that he/she can to protect the life, liberty and property of the citizens of the state.” Unfortunately, various critics of McInnis seem to hold only him accountable to that standard. Some people seem to want to magnify any flaw of McInnis and forgive any flaw of any other candidate.

    It is rather uncharitable to assume that McInnis had only the interests of the federal government in mind. I do not doubt that he legitimately thought the project would enhance military performance as well as bring jobs to some Coloradans. I do not believe that justifies the use of eminent domain.

    What I am asking from Republicans is consistency in principle. I’m tired of Republicans who invoke principles only when convenient for partisan attacks. -Ari

  3. Ari

    Ah, Doug has also posted a comment here:
    http://bit.ly/6oZGda

    Doug believes that “Condemnation is only justified when there is an overriding public need.”

    But how is that standard to be determined?

    Also, let’s not forget that McInnis did not commit himself to the use of eminent domain for this project. He explicitly said that it wasn’t being pursued.

  4. Doug

    I appreciate your concern that conservative principles should be consistantly applied to all candidates. That’s only fair.

    Actually, I think McInnis is being more honest than other candidates in stating clearly that his support for expansion is about jobs. Others have trumpeted their patriotic motives, pretending that their positions have nothing to do with economics.

    McInnis has become a target for us anti-expansion people because we feel like he has went after us pretty agressively first. Frankly he gives us more to work with on the issue and in reponding to his position, we have an opportunity to speak to him and all other candidates as well. Those who are silent, or politically correct on the issue don’t give us anything “news worthy” to react to. But I agee with you that the same standard should be applied to all of them.

    While McInnis says that the Army has taken eminent domain off the table, he knows that’s not true. As recently as July the new Sec. of the Army, John McHugh refused to make a “no eminent domain” pledge to Senator Udall, say that he wouldn’t do it, “under the rubric of not making promises that I can’t keep.”

    The Feds will never relinquish any little bit of their eminent domain power in any meaningful way. Never. They’ll only express intentions and preferences that have no long-term legal weight.

    For politicans, being against eminent domain is a safe political position because they don’t think they can do anything about it. (I happen to disagree. I think that the state CAN do something to check the Feds on this.) But they think it’s safe to make promises regarding things that are outside of their control. Ritter did the same thing during the last campaign.

    Andrew Romanoff and John Salazar are the only ones who’ve gotten beyond meaningless no-eminent domain rhetoric and commited to permanent no-funding legislation. So unless Republicans are forthcoming with a strong position against expansion, look for mass defections by Republicans to these Democratic candidates in 2010.

  5. Anonymous

    Since government jobs (including military) do not PRODUCE anything, the only growth the expansion would bring to Colorado is more people living on taxpayer dollars, resulting in more consumers. Every dime they spend at your local business was taken from you to begin with. Military use of land doesn’t really equal a public need for the land…come on. Yes, we need a strong military, but is this land crucial to that end…really? Besides whose property will they want next time? Maybe it will be yours!! If you haven’t learned by now, our government will never stop taking from the people until we say NO. Absolutely NO!

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