Protecting Private Property Rights in Virginia – Ballot Question for Virginia Voters

First the national Democratic Party leadership abandoned any pretext of standing for mainstream values when it dropped references to God from the party platform. Now the Virginia Democratic establishment is doing the same by opposing the protection of our private property rights. The Democratic Party walked back excluding God from the platform; don’t be surprised if they try to back away from this crazy position, too.

Of course, I don’t think the national Democrats experienced a true change of heart—remember that embarrassing moment when the delegates clearly refused to back down but party bosses ignored the vote because it looked bad? Similarly, even if the Virginia Democrats do shelve their opposition to property rights, it would probably be safe to chalk it up to pure damage control.

Still, damage control is what they ought to be doing right now, because the position the Democratic Party of Virginia has staked out is an astonishing one – a position many of their own would find shocking. Here’s where things stand.

When Virginians go to the polls this November, they will have the opportunity to weigh in on a vitally important issue: whether or not the Constitution of Virginia should protect the right of private property and stand as a bulwark against eminent domain abuse.

Some—mostly on the left—have opposed the Virginia Property Rights Amendment, calling it unnecessary. They’ve said that eminent domain abuse doesn’t exist in Virginia, that an Amendment is superfluous. As the Amendment’s Senate patron, I’ve always pointed to cases of clear abuse, some ongoing, and to attempts by some Democrats to chip away at the laws we have protecting the rights of private property owners.

But now I can just point to a resolution adopted by the Democratic Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee (their governing body). You want to know why we need the Virginia Property Rights Amendment? Look no farther than the astonishing reasons the state Democratic Party cites for opposing it:

They oppose it because it “will lock into the Virginia Constitution a prohibition on using eminent domain to advance private enterprise, job creation, tax revenue generation, or economic development.”

In other words, they oppose it because it actually defines public use – because it makes clear what was once taken for granted, that condemning your property to hand it over to a private developer is not a legitimate public use. They actually want to preserve government’s ability to continue to engage in abusive eminent domain practices.

In recent years, “public use” has been turned into an ill-defined notion of “public purpose,” where a “public purpose” is whatever a local government wants it to be. And the Democratic Party of Virginia wants to keep it that way.

And they go on. They also oppose the Amendment because they say it will “add to the complexity and expense of governmental entities seeking to utilize eminent domain for the benefit of taxpayers, even when property is taken for unquestioned public purposes.”

Let’s unpack that statement. Firstly, what do you think of that telling “even” – as if takings for “unquestioned public purposes” (not even “public use”!) are just one sort of legitimate taking? And what sort of complexity are we talking about here, the “complexity” of distinguishing between true public uses (roads, schools, utilities, etc.) and impermissible takings (e.g., handing over the property to a private developer)? This isn’t rocket science.

And “expense” – what expense, exactly? They’re referring to the requirement that property owners must receive fair compensation. Does this come with a price tag? Sure. But let’s call it what it is: just compensation. We all want to save money, but presumably not by shortchanging property owners.

Our friends in the Democratic Party aren’t quite done. Here’s the final reason cited for their opposition: “Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli strongly supports the amendment.” Listen, I get that the Democratic establishment doesn’t like our Attorney General, but it’s hard to come up with a more petty reason than that to oppose a constitutional amendment that protects the rights of all Virginians.

They will be happy to know, however, that one of their own candidates for Attorney General, Senator Mark Herring, is opposed to enshrining property rights in the Constitution of Virginia. Or at least, he is now, voting against the Amendment on second passage earlier this year – after supporting it once its first year passage became a fait accompli in 2011. He supported it before he opposed it. Sound familiar?

Make no mistake about it: Virginia Democrats are gearing up to oppose the Property Rights Amendment. If we let this opportunity to restore property rights slip through our fingers, we may not get a chance again for a very long time. We have to win this one.

That’s where you come in. Please share this note with friends and family to make sure they know how important it is to take a stand for property rights this November. Ask your City Council or Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution in support of the Virginia Property Rights Amendment. Get your local party committee to indicate support for the Amendment on their sample ballots. And most of all, remember to vote for property rights in November.

Mark D. Obenshain

I don’t think anyone needs to ask which way I will be voting on this.  Remember that lady in CT who lost her house?  It could happen to you too.