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Waide: Petition drive is ‘on schedule’

Farm Bureau has been leading the charge to get the issue on the statewide ballot since 2009

It has been several months since the effort to get eminent domain on the 2011 statewide ballot started, and the head of the organization spearheading the movement is confident the required number of signatures is within reach.

“We’re doing well,” said David Waide, president of Mississippi Farm Bureau. “We’ve got some to go, but we’re doing well. We’re on schedule.”

Farm Bureau led the charge in the 2009 legislative session to get legislation passed that would prohibit state government from using eminent domain for private economic development projects. Currently, the state can use eminent domain for public use like utilities construction and for private economic development projects that have to meet a laundry list of job-creation criteria and gain approval from the Legislature.

A bill that would have eliminated private use sailed through both chambers of the Legislature last year, but was vetoed by Gov. Haley Barbour, who vehemently opposed the measure. Barbour said then the bill would severely damage Mississippi’s ability to land big economic development projects like Toyota and Nissan. In the case of each, eminent domain was used to acquire small parcels of land where the automotive facilities sit.

After Barbour vetoed the measure, there was no small degree of confidence that Barbour’s perfect record of sustained vetoes would incur its first blemish. The House voted overwhelmingly to override Barbour’s veto. The Senate did not, with many senators who voted for the eminent domain restriction originally changing their votes.

Shortly after Barbour kept his undefeated record intact, Waide and Farm Bureau launched their ballot initiative campaign.

To get the issue on the ballot, a minimum of 89,285 certified signatures must be gathered, with at least 17,857 of those coming from each of the five congressional districts as they existed in 2000.  That number of signatures represents 12 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial general election.  Signatures have to be certified by county circuit clerks as belonging to registered voters in Mississippi.

Waide said his organization has self imposed a Sept. 1 deadline to get all the signatures certified and submitted to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s office. The official deadline for submitting the certified signatures is 90 days before the start of the 2011 legislative session, which will begin the first week of January.

So far, Waide said, the response from his roughly 600,000 members has been about what he had expected — brisk. Every county Farm Bureau has them available, and the organization has inserted one into its magazine and bought air space on radio stations to promote the issue around the state.

“I guess the surprise I’ve had with it has been the public response,” he said. “We’ve had overwhelming support from outside the Farm Bureau from people who are very interested in trying to preserve the right to own property.”

A handful of other trade groups and business associations have circulated petitions, and farm supply businesses across the state have had them available for their customers.

“Most all the ag associations in the state have been real interested in helping us,” Waide said.

Waide said that, as of late last week, Farm Bureau had gathered about 40 percent of the required number of signatures, but only about 20 percent of those had been certified by circuit clerks as belonging to registered voters.

“It’s a long process,” Waide said. “You have to deal with (circuit) clerks that have court dates and a lot of other things to do, and a lot of them have limited staff. Some courthouses, you get them back the next week. Some courthouses are a month. That’s the reason we have the self-imposed Sept. 1 deadline.

“I don’t remember (an issue) that’s ever been like this. I think this has really galvanized everybody.”

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