A vulnerable freshman Democrat won a victory Tuesday when the House passed a conservation bill for a river in his state, in the face of fierce Republican opposition.
Democrat Joe Courtney of Connecticut sponsored the Eightmile Wild and Scenic River Act (HR 986), which passed, 253-172, with just 24 Republicans voting in favor.
Courtney won the closest House race in the 2006 election, defeating Republican former Rep. Rob Simmons (2001-07) by 83 votes. Courtney is expected to be high on the GOP’s list of targets for next year’s races.
The bill would add parts of the Eightmile River in Connecticut to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The designation would ban dams on the river and set in place other conservation measures.
Supporters of the bill cite bipartisan support in Connecticut, including from Courtney’s former opponent and from GOP Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Simmons sponsored an earlier version of the bill in the 109th Congress that did not go to a vote.
But opponents argued that it contained language that could allow the use of eminent domain to seize private property. The bill is opposed by the Property Rights Alliance, a special project of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform.
Adding symbolic resonance was the fact that Courtney’s district includes New London, home of the zoning dispute that led to a controversial 2005 Supreme Court decision on eminent domain, Kelo v. City of New London.
“This bill leaves the door wide open to actual condemnation proceedings against private land,” said Pete Sessions, R-Texas.
Supporters said the property-rights concerns are unwarranted because the bill would explicitly prohibit the Interior Department from acquiring land on the river without the consent of private owners.
“I think, frankly, folks, we’re talking about politics here, not policy,” Courtney said during debate.
The House first voted on the bill July 11 under suspension of the rules, a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority. The bill was defeated along party lines, with 239 in favor and 173 against.
New York NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com