MDA chief sues to keep eminent domain off ballot

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The head of Mississippi’s economic development agency is seeking to prevent Mississippians from voting on an initiative that would keep the government from taking private property for the use of another private entity.
Leland Speed, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority and a prominent Jackson businessman, is asking a Hinds County Circuit Court to prevent Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann from putting the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for July 25.
Speed was appointed MDA executive director by Gov. Haley Barbour in 2004 in his first year in office. He stepped aside, but was re-appointed this year by Barbour to replace Gray Swoope, who accepted a similar position in Florida.
In the past, Barbour has blocked legislation to prohibit the use of eminent domain – the government taking private land for public purposes – when it involves turning the land over to another private entity, such as a manufacturing company. In 2009, he vetoed such a bill.
When asked if Barbour supported the lawsuit, a spokesperson issued a statement from the governor which said, “If this initiative were to pass and go into effect, it would gut state economic development efforts.”
In his lawsuit, Speed said the passage of the initiative “would … impede economic development in Mississippi.”
Speed, through his attorney, former Supreme Court Justice Fred Banks Jr., argues that the initiative should be blocked from the ballot because it amends a section of the Bill of Rights of the state Constitution. State law prevents the use of the initiative process to amend the Bill of Rights.
In a statement, Hosemann said, “Approximately 119,692 Mississippi citizens signed petitions to place eminent domain on the general election ballot. By state law, I am required, and I intend, to place the initiative on the ballot unless otherwise ordered to do so by the Supreme Court.”
The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Monday in another lawsuit involving an initiative slated to be on the November ballot. A group of Mississippians is asking that an initiative that would define life as beginning “at the moment of fertilization, cloning or equivalent” be kept off the ballot – also on the grounds it amends the Bill of Rights.
Farm Bureau is the sponsor of the eminent domain initiative. At the time it was filed, former Farm Bureau President David Waide of West Point said the initiative was crafted in such a way that it could withstand a challenge on the grounds it amended the Bill of Rights.
Randy Knight of Pelahatchie, current Farm Bureau president, said his group would work to keep the initiative on the ballot.
Barbour said the initiative passage would prevent state efforts that led to such economic development projects as Nissan and Toyota. But supporters of the initiative said those projects could still be developed by paying landowners a fair value for their property.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.