Sunday, June 04, 2006

Eminent Domain reform is not just a Republican victory

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:32 PM |  

In response to last week’s column on Sue Jeffers’ challenge for the Republican Party endorsement, I received a comment from one of the Republican faithful suggesting the right course of action was to simply sit out the election. I had to disagree. Loyalty to the party means trying to make it better, not destroying it.

The reader responded --

“I understand the "stay and make it right" line of thinking. So you try to right the ship all the way through, and then you still end up with a ballot of Pawlenty (R), Jeffers (Lib), [insert name] (DFL)...who do YOU pull the lever for?
I responded citing the answer given by the libertarian and former editor of Reason Magazine Virginia Postrel. Asked why she was voting for George Bush, rather than a libertarian candidate, she said in effect that she wasn't voting for a father or a husband, she was voting for the person best able to run the country.

"Best able" includes a lot more than just a person's views, character and values and his/her experience and administrative ability. It includes party structure, resources and the pool of talent to draw from to fill advisory and administrative positions.

Case in point is the eminent domain reform legislation passed in this session -- by any standards a great piece of legislation that set the precedent of establishing specific criteria that limit legitimate government authority. It was a victory for individual liberty and property rights. There was compromise on a few administrative details, but absolutely no compromise on principle in the final bill signed by the governor. It was the kind of legislation any Republican should be proud of.

Herein lies the irony.

Private property rights and eminent domain reform have been planks in the Libertarian platform for a long time -- since before the governor was against publicly funded stadiums. It was the libertarian Institute for Justice that drafted the legislation and along with the Minnesota Association of Automobile Dealers created a broad-based coalition supporting reform.

State representative and Republican attorney general candidate Jeff Johnson did outstanding work sponsoring the bill in the House. He stood strong when others tried to compromise the integrity of the legislation, and he engaged in numerous debates in the media with representatives of the League of Minnesota Cites. But so did DFL Senator Tom Bakk, who, with all due respect to Johnson, was bucking a larger share of his party’s constituency for the sake of principle.

The point is, while denying Jeffers access to Republican delegates because she is a libertarian, the GOP was claiming victory for a libertarian-drive initiative that had real bipartisan support (pseudo-bi-partisanship is usually code for a compromise unsatisfactory to both sides). In his acceptance speech, the governor exhibited that brand of leadership that takes the inevitable and makes it look like a plan. The dust had already settled on the battlefield when he rode out of the hills shooting the wounded and declaring a great Republican victory.

Unfortuantely, in a sad sort of way, he was right.

The Libertarian Party obviously could not pull off eminent domain reform or we would have had it before now. The party strength is just not there. However, it is equally true that it was a libertarian push that woke up Republicans and Democrats alike to take action. And if we’re honest, individual sponsors excluded, neither party was acting on principle -- eminent domain reform was a popular issue that snuck up on them, and they simply didn’t have time to figure out how to oppose each other in the face of overwhelming public support.

Make no mistake, it was the people that led on this issue, not the governor and neither the Republican Party leadership nor the Democrats.

That brings us back to how I would decide whose chad to punch for governor..

Clearly, I’m closer to Jeffers on the views, character and value issues. Experience and administrative ability is a Pawlenty nod, but I don’t put a lot of weight on that. The governor burned a lot of political capital on things like expanding gambling, and he consistently gets out negotiated on education by Steve Kelley. Jeffers, however, is untested.

It’s the ability to get things done where Pawlenty has the clear edge in who best can run the state. He’s got a party organization. More importantly, there’s plenty of career bureaucrats and politicians eager to hitch their stars to a guy mentioned as a national candidate. Except for unproven true believers, you aren’t going to find name-brand people jumping on the Jeffers’ bandwagon.

What is interesting, however, is that when she announced for the Republican endorsement, there were many of the big name conservatives from the Republican Party watching from the shadows of the Rotunda and air clapping. If a few of these guys have the courage to throw themselves, their true conservative/Republican principles and their networks and contacts behind Jeffers, the story changes dramatically.

Jeffers is smart enough to know what she doesn’t know. Between now and the election to be a viable candidate she must prove that she can attract a cast of the “best and the brightest” supporters that can fill administrative positions. If she can do that, the positive libertarian agenda based on reforms like the eminent domain legislation beats the heck out of the Republicans’ “We’re not Democrats” campaign.

So bottom line, I’ll vote for the person that is in the best position to run the state in the broadest context at the time of the election. That may not be the person I most agree with, but I think Postrel’s criteria are the best ones on which to make a decision.