When the peons get uppity, Part I

In the beginning was Kelo vs. City of New London, the 2005 case in which a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decided it was an allowable “public use” for the decrepit, 250-year-old city to seize private homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood and turn them over to chemical giant Pfizer Inc., which promised to build on the site a big hotel and commercial-industrial project that would generate 3,169 new jobs and an estimated $1.2 million per year in new tax revenues.

It’s a “public use” because it would generate more tax revenues for “the public,” see.

The city ended up spending $78 million to move or bulldoze the homes in question. The project was never built. The big vacant lot is now home to a bunch of weeds, seagulls and starlings. Pfizer merged with Wyeth and decided to keep the latter’s Groton pharmaceutical campus on the east side of the Thames River, closing its New London facility right around the time its tax breaks on the New London site would have expired, thereby increasing Pfizer’s local property tax bill by almost 400 percent. (Those tax breaks always work out great, don’t they?)

Hey, good call, Supreme Court! Nice to be wrong on principle and on your determination that the scheme would benefit New London with a bunch of new tax revenues, huh? Gosh, distant federal bureaucrat-politicians have such a good record on making these calls!

But amidst the steaming pile that was the Kelo decision, the Supreme Court did us one favor: Justices noted that if states or localities wanted to enact their own restrictions on such high-handed thievery, they could.

So Nevadans did. In 2006 and again in 2008, we OK’d PISTOL, the “People’s Initiative to Stop the Taking of Our Land.” Or as much as the Nevada Supreme Court would allow to be placed on the ballot.

You see, by abusing the “single subject” rule, our corrupt state high court had gotten into the habit of “bifurcating” such initiatives. When the voters presented enough signatures to qualify term limits for the ballot, for instance, the court divided the measure into two questions, requiring voters to vote separately on legislative term limits and judicial term limits. This allowed the judges to campaign separately against term limits for judges, about which no one felt as strongly, and thus defeat that portion of the initiative.

When PISTOL came before the court, justices did the same thing, supposedly, “bifurcating” the portions of the petition dealing specifically with eminent domain property seizures such as Susette Kelo’s, separating the section that specified property owners could sue for a regulatory taking should any government action have the effect of reducing their property value.

The first part of PISTOL was voted on and approved by voters in 2006 and 2008. The other half, the “regulatory takings” part — the part which former Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury absolutely hates, declaring it could imperil “zoning, licensing, everything we do!” in a tone of voice once reserved for condemning the suggestion that we strip naked and dance with the demons in the moonlight — was voted on by voters in the election of … just a minute, I’m sure I had it here somewhere … in the election of …

Well, imagine that. The corrupt Nevada Supreme Court “bifurcated” that half of the PISTOL question, threw it on the ground, and trampled it into the mud when they broke for lunch. It just disappeared, after being qualified for the ballot by obtaining the required number of signatures. It never made it back onto any ballot, ever.

A couple of us were meeting with state Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hardesty on a separate matter Thursday afternoon, so I asked him, “When are the voters going to get to vote on the second half of the PISTOL initiative?”

The chief justice said something very interesting. He said, “I can’t comment on that, because it’s a matter that could very well still come before the court.” He also said, “For that matter, the single-issue question could also come before us.”

That sounds tantamount to an invitation, to me. I wonder who would have standing to sue, say, the secretary of state for not yet having placed the second half of PISTOL on a statewide election ballot, and then haul him before the state Supreme Court should he refuse to get it on there, lickity split?

I mentioned former County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury. There’s nothing “former” about this big-government champion’s opposition to PISTOL. Although he says Question 4, which he and his political allies have placed on the Nov. 2 ballot, merely “amends,” “tweaks,” and “improves” PISTOL, the Legislative Counsel Bureau guys who annually update the Nevada Constitution report therein that the provisions of PISTOL will remain in effect only through Nov. 22, 2010, unless the voters reject the proposed “repeal” of PISTOL on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Yes, it says “repeal.” And the ballot language of Question 4 repeats the word twice: “repeal.”

Mr. Woodbury and company raised $500,000 to fight PISTOL, and used that money to bring sponsors Kermitt Waters and former District Judge Don Chairez (whose personal assets to promote the measure were not unlimited) to the table, where they signed an agreement to accept some “modifications” — though neither man was ever elected or empowered to sign away any constitutional rights for voters, and neither man signed anything containing the word “repeal.”

Mr. Woodbury trooped into the newspaper’s offices last Wednesday with Jacob Snow of the Regional Transportation Monopoly, Susan Martinovich of the Nevada Department of Transportation, et al.

The group sang in harmony a two-part tune that insisted life under PISTOL is an abomination, while the changes they want to make in the hard-won constitutional amendment are minimal, minimal …

Next week: The arguments for Question 4.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal, and author of “The Black Arrow.” See www.vinsuprynowicz.com.

The Review-Journal’s Glenn Cook will return next week.

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