The recent Supreme Court decision to uphold a plan by the city of New Haven, Conn., to exercise eminent domain in the taking of residential property in a waterfront neighborhood for development by private interests.
The GOP lawmakers are determined to do something about this blatant abuse of judicial authority. Cornyn is proposing legislation that would limit eminent domain strictly for public use, not economic development. Sensenbrenner's bill would withhold federal funding from municipalities that want to take private property for economic development.
As for DeLay, he has been content to denounce the court decision as "a George Orwell novel of a court decision," thus revealing his heretofore undisclosed literary side.
Well, good for all of them, but DeLay and Cornyn had better avoid pushing for retroactivity clauses in any legislation they back, if they have hopes of being re-elected.
This is not the first time that a group of well-connected entrepreneurs has persuaded a municipality to seize private property in order to facilitate their planned development project. It happened in Arlington -- Arlington, Texas, that is, and one of the entrepreneurs, albeit a small bore one, was our nominal president, G.W. Bush, at the time a failed, would-be oil man, but one with a magic -- in Texas anyway -- last name.
Kevin Phillips, a long-time Republican strategist turned apostate, describes the deal in his book, American Dynasty.
"In 1988, George W. also began angling for a role in the acquisition of the Texas Rangers baseball team, which was being sold by oil man Eddie Chiles, an old friend of his father's. The deal did not go through easily, despite Bush's love of the sport, but it finally concluded in 1989 on three pivots of cronyism. The first was the help in arranging meetings and financing given to Bush by baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, a family friend. Number two was the investment participation of Texas billionaire Richard Rainwater, a major Reagan-Bush contributor.
"Last but not least was the arrangement by which the city of Arlington agreed to finance a new $191 million stadium for the Rangers with a bond issue paid for by a small sales tax increase. The stadium was to be deeded over to the baseball consortium in 12 years, after the Rangers group had paid $60 million in annual payments of $5 million.
"What sold investors was the highly rewarding stadium deal, which depended on the city of Arlington pushing the sales tax increase through in a special election and then stretching its power of eminent domain to seize the necessary land for what was mostly a private purpose."
Bush and his cronies bought the team for $63 million. Bush's contribution was a paltry $640,000, which got him 2 percent of the franchise. But the family name was his real contribution. His main function was not unlike that of retired baseball players who hire on as greeters at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
In their book, Shrub, columnist Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose note that, "Not satisfied with the taxpayers picking up the tab on the construction of the (new) stadium, the ball team used its quasi-government sports authority to 'take' the 13 acres needed for the stadium complex at a price so low a state court had to step in on behalf of the unwilling 'sellers.' "
In 1998, by then Gov. G.W. Bush, who had campaigned as a strong advocate of private property rights, cashed in his interest in the baseball team for $15.4 million.
Only in America.
Rossie is associate editor of the Press & Sun-Bulletin.
© 2005 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin