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An original column penned for the FlashReport by Republican State Assemblyman Ray Haynes.

September 13, 2006

[Publisher's Note:  As part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary to you here at the FlashReport, I am pleased to present this column from State Assemblyman Ray Haynes.]

If you are new to the FlashReport, please check out the main site and the acclaimed FlashReport Weblog on California politics, where Dan is a regular contributor.

The first question for those of us who believe in conservatism is what  specific values we believe in.  Do we believe in small government?  Do we believe in fewer taxes?  Do we believe in individual liberty?  If we believe in these things, how does that translate into actual public policy?

Proposition 90 begins with the first fundamental premise;  no government--federal, state or local--should be allowed to take a private individual’s property, and turn it over to another private individual, no matter how good a reason the government has for taking the property.  Government always thinks it knows how to use your property better than you, so it will always come up with a good excuse to take it away from you.  Proposition 90 says that is not right.

As an ancillary to that premise, Proposition 90 says that any government, federal, state or local, should not be allowed to use its regulatory authority, that is planning or zoning codes, to effectively damage or devalue your property without compensation.  In other words, it is not enough that the government simply allow you to keep title to your land, it should allow use to make use of that land at its existing value.  Often, a state or local government will pass a law, ordinance, rule, or regulation that effectively prevents you from using your land for any purpose.  So, even though you still own the land, and are required to pay taxes on the land, the new laws do not allow you to do anything with it (look at the Endangered Species Act).  Proposition 90 says that if a government effectively takes your property, they have to pay you for it.

So, why is that important for conservatives?  First, it is supposed to be a constitutional mandate.  We say we believe in first principles; the original intent of the founders in the Constitution; finding out what our founding fathers meant when they drafted the Constitution.  The Fifth Amendment says very clearly that property may not be taken for public use without just compensation.  So—what is a taking? If a government wants to put a park on your land, can they just zone it for a park, never buy it from you, and make you use it for a park?  Of course not.  But, courts have held that they can zone it “Open Space” (which is the same as a park), and you don’t get paid for the taking, or the devaluation of your property.  That is inappropriate.

How about public use?  Can the government take your land, and sell it to an Auto Mall developer so that the government makes more money off of your land?  Is that a public use?  Courts have said, “Yes.” That is inappropriate.

What is just compensation?  Is it whatever the government can force you to accept, by using its power unjustly to force you to hand over the land, and then tie you up in court until you accept the government’s price?  Courts have said yes.

Proposition 90 says, “No.”

All of our political freedoms begin with a proper respect by government for private property rights.  Without private property rights, no other freedom has any meaning.  If a government can use its power to bankrupt you, you have no freedom.  Some people may die in the defense of freedom, none will go bankrupt.  After all, if you go bankrupt in the defense of freedom, you are still alive, and have to explain to your spouse why there is no food on the table.  No self respecting person will put themselves through that torture.  They will just shut their mouth, and put up with oppressive government.

Why should conservatives support Proposition 90?  Because it supports and promotes that first, and most basic, freedom, private property.

In addition, it changes the political dynamic.  The only way some liberal groups can get money out of business is by threatening their property and their businesses through local elected officials and their regulatory powers.  We all know that much what local government do is extort businesses into supporting liberal politicians, just so that those liberal politicians will leave those businesses alone.  Proposition 90 gives that business or landowner an even shake if they say no to the shakedown by left wing politicians.

Finally, opponents say that Proposition 90 is poorly drafted.  Actually, it is not.  When opponents of an initiative say it is poorly drafted, they are really saying, “We can’t find any loopholes, this initiative will actually do what it says it will do.”  Proposition 90 says it will protect private property rights, and then writes language to actually do so.

Why should conservatives support Proposition 90?  Simple.  Either conservatives stand for freedom, or they do not.  If they stand for freedom, they will stand with Proposition 90.  If they want bigger, more powerful government, they will oppose Proposition 90.  It is just that simple.

You can read more about Assemblyman Haynes and contact him on his website.