Statement election

From eminent domain to Personhood to the election of a new governor and lieutenant governor, Mississippi made a statement with the decisions it made in 2011

<< MBJ’s July 18 cover story on eminent domain, by Ted Carter, outlined the issue in which most Mississippian’s agreed during the November elections.

We might have finally found something Mississippians of every political persuasion can agree on: The use of eminent domain for private economic development is a bad idea.

Initiative 31, which will amend the state Constitution to essentially restrict the use of eminent domain to projects of direct public use, earned more than 637,000 votes. The initiative needed 50 percent plus one, with the affirmative votes equaling at least 40 percent of total votes cast in all races, to pass. Seventy-three percent of the votes cast were in favor of 31.

The 637,000 votes were more than all but two of the winners of the statewide races got. Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves received about 642,000 votes. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who had no opponent, received 718,000 votes.

Eminent domain’s initiative colleagues didn’t come close to that. Personhood failed altogether. Voter ID passed, but got 98,000 fewer votes.

The defeat of Personhood, which had the support of a handful of powerful conservative special interest groups, would qualify as a minor upset. There was never very much doubt that Voter ID would pass. Likewise with eminent domain, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who supported it would have thought that it would outpoll Gov.-elect Phil Bryant by 94,000 votes.

The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and its 200,000 “member families” made eminent domain their single biggest issue the past 18 months. The November issue of Farm Country, the organization’s magazine, was almost nothing but testimonials from members on the virtues of private property rights.

Nothing is settled, though. The new eminent domain law will almost assuredly be challenged on the grounds that amending the state Constitution – specifically, the Constitution’s Bill of Rights — via ballot initiative is illegal. The Mississippi Supreme Court deferred the issue when Mississippi Development Authority interim executive director Leland Speed challenged it earlier this year. Speed argued that it would kill any chance the state had of attracting projects like the Toyota and Nissan manufacturing facilities. Speed indicated to the Mississippi Business Journal in late summer that it was likely he would challenge the initiative should it pass.

“We’re expecting one,” Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation president Randy Knight said of the possibility of a challenge. “We’re still real optimistic, though. It’s hard to fathom that the Mississippi Supreme Court would do away with something that 73 percent of Mississippians are so strongly in favor of.”

A good number of Mississippians were also in favor of Republicans running state government. Come January, Republicans will hold the House of Representatives, the Senate, the governor’s and the lieutenant governor’s posts.

Perhaps most importantly, the GOP will occupy the Speaker’s chair in the House. Rep. Phillip Gunn, of Clinton, emerged as the preferred candidate for that spot and will most likely become the first Republican speaker since Reconstruction. With Gunn in charge of the House and Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves controlling the Senate, that would appear to set the stage for Republican advancement of many of their legislative priorities.

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