JACKSON – Supporters say they’re closing in on the signatures needed to let voters decide on a proposal to protect private property.
Farm Bureau is collecting “close to 1,000 signatures per day” in support of the proposal, which would prevent the government from taking private land for use by another private entity, according to the head of the organization.
“I believe we are seeing our freedoms being eroded one by one and it is time to draw a line in the sand,” said Farm Bureau President David Waide, the sponsor of the initiative.
“This country was founded on certain principles, and I believe religious freedom and the right to own property were two of the most important. I am not willing to surrender on those.”
To place an issue on the ballot, sponsors must gather 89,285 signatures, representing 12 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election.
One-fifth of the required number of signatures must come from each of the five congressional districts as they existed in the early 1990s, when legislation was enacted to give citizens the right to change the state Constitution by petition. Because of population changes, the state now has four congressional districts.
Pleased with efforts
Waide, a Clay County farmer who has headed Farm Bureau since December 1996, said the required number of signatures has been obtained in three of the five congressional districts.
Waide said Farm Bureau members are currently working in the old 4th District, which encompasses parts of Jackson and southwest Mississippi, and in the old 2nd District, which includes much of the Delta.
“I feel really encouraged we are getting results,” Waide said. “We are showing up anywhere there is a crowd and we are even going door to door.”
While Waide is confident of getting the signatures, the grassroots organization that lobbies for and supports rural and agriculture-related issues does face a quickly approaching deadline.
To get the issue on the 2011 ballot, the signatures of registered voters must be certified by the circuit clerks in each county and turned into the office of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann by Oct. 6.
The issue must be presented to the Legislature for consideration before it is placed on the ballot. The Legislature can craft an alternative proposal to place on the ballot along with the original initiative proposal.
In 2009, the Legislature by an overwhelming margin passed a bill similar to Waide’s initiative proposal. But Barbour vetoed it, saying it could hurt the effort to recruit major economic manufacturers, such as Toyota.
Backers of the proposal argued that manufacturers still could be recruited to the state and methods would still exist to ensure land was available for development.
The House overrode the veto of the Republican Barbour, but surprisingly the veto was upheld in the Senate with the aid of primarily Democrats. Efforts to find a compromise since then have been unsuccessful.
Debate over using eminent domain to take land for use by another private entity has intensified since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that it can be done unless prohibited by the state.
Waide said 43 states have passed eminent domain restrictions similar to what he is proposing in his initiative.
Some said Waide is working to get the issue on the 2011 ballot to coincide with his possible candidacy for statewide office. It has been rumored that he will be a candidate for an open statewide office in 2011 – possibly governor, lieutenant governor or agriculture commissioner.
Waide, who is stepping down as president of the organization, said he has not thought about the initiative effort “in that light. That is not a concern.”
He would not rule out a run for statewide office, but said his first duty is completing his tenure at Farm Bureau, which boasts a membership of more than 209,000 families.
“It takes a major commitment to run a statewide campaign,” he said. “I would have to think about it and get in the right mind.”
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal Jackson Bureau