6/18/2006

Eminent-domain issue spells trouble for Democrats: Des Moines (IA) register, 6/15/06

Opinion

By David Yepsen

The political landscape surrounding the eminent-domain issue at the Iowa Statehouse may be changing.

Some House Democrats are saying privately they're going to go along with Republican calls for a special session of the Legislature to consider overriding Gov. Tom Vilsack's veto of legislation restricting governments' ability to take private property.

If so, it would represent a change of heart for them. Until now, many Democrats have been trying to prevent a veto-override session to protect the Democratic governor from embarrassment. Others have sided with Vilsack in wanting to rework the bill before coming back to consider it. Republicans are saying no; the old bill is fine.

But some rank-and-file House Democrats are saying to heck with Vilsack. "There isn't one of us he talked to about this," said one. "We look like we're against property rights, and we're not happy with the position he put us in."

He added: "Political protection trumps party loyalty on this. We can't worry about whether we make Tom Vilsack look good. This issue has taken on a life of its own."

Also, he notes Vilsack is a lame-duck governor who isn't running for re-election. They are. Why should they take a bullet for him?

But Senate Democrats are less willing to bypass Vilsack. Leaders there say some members may be willing to come back for a veto session, but a majority agree with the governor that a deal should be cut with the GOP on an alternative bill before they return.

Why the difference between Senate Democrats and House Democrats? Senate Democrats are virtually assured of taking control of the Senate in November. They aren't as jittery as those in the House, who see their chances of grabbing a couple of marginal Republican seats evaporating over this.

Republicans are saying Vilsack, city-hall politicians and the developers who write them all big campaign checks just want to water down an already-watery bill. And don't think developers lack influence. (Did we all notice a tanned and smiling Bill Knapp standing behind Chet Culver at the victory party on primary night? It's no surprise aides say Culver supports Vilsack's position.)

Despite the shifting sentiments among House Democrats, there won't be a special session if Senate Democrats don't agree. It takes a two-thirds agreement of both houses for the Legislature to call itself back into a special session.

So, for now, a special session seems unlikely, despite the complaints from House Democrats. Vilsack's veto will stand. Republicans will have their issue.

Vilsack complains Republicans are playing politics with the issue and, well, come to think of it, they are.

Why wouldn't they "play politics" with an issue where they hold the good cards? Polls show most people agree with them that more restrictions are needed on government land grabs. (Sometimes "playing politics" is also known as "reflecting the will of the people.")

Senate Democrats shouldn't be stupid and walk into this GOP trap by walking away from a special session or a vote on a veto override. They have an interest in seeing House Democrats take control of that chamber if they hope to enact a Democratic agenda.

All legislative Democrats should agree to a special session. Take a vote to override the veto. (We do pay legislators to take votes, not avoid them.) If lawmakers override, or simply re-pass the same bill, fine. If not, they can then work out a compromise.

But they should get this issue behind them. If Democrats keep ducking a veto vote, you can see the Republican ads now: (Bring up your best Robert Mitchum or Sam Elliott voice here.)

"If you support personal property rights in Iowa, vote for the Republican candidates for governor and the Legislature. If you don't, vote for the Democrats."

Or: "Do you think Archie Brooks should remain free to threaten small East Village business owners with taking their property so he can sell it to someone else? If so, vote Democratic. If not, vote Republican."

If the GOP dumps a bunch of ads like that, they'll be saying: "Democrats. They're what's for dinner."


Des Moines Register: http://desmoinesregister.com