Florida Libertarians Thwart Eminent Domain

Interesting bit published in the Sierra Times on the efforts of Libertarians in Florida to fight eminent domain…

The Free Congress Foundation has one word to describe Libertarians when they’re busy organizing coalitions to get things done: formidable.

Critics of the Libertarian Party, who focus on their modest if growing number of office-holders, are often unaware of the Party’s emphasis on local community networking and consensus coalitions that underlie real politics. Indeed, many of their most signal policy victories—the Earned Income Credit, the increasing collapse of ballot restrictions across the US, and anti-poverty programs such as the Alaska Permanent Fund—are the result of the Libertarian willingness to envision and do the hard work coalitions require, and then share the credit. In the last two years, they’ve thrown abuses of the Patriot Act into chaos by leading or supporting efforts to get local council resolutions against its enforcement, then used the networks built to challenge election problems and press for reform.

If anything, Libertarians, with their self-responsibility approach and consensus skills born of getting a party of individualists to work together—indeed, LP Founder David Nolan called consensus essential to Libertarianism—seem uniquely talented at such unsupervised self-organization and long term projects.

GO-TO LIBERTARIANS

Florida, where Libertarians have led successful broad-based initiatives for ballot fairness, home-school legalization, low-cost mediation for the poor, literally billions in tax reductions, and removal of over 1,000 laws that restricted everything from gays to taxi licensing, is a case in point.

“Libertarians have a growing reputation” as ‘go-to’ people on human rights and expanded freedoms in Florida, say observers such as Ed Heaphy, a board member of the state ACLU. “They regularly mount successful and attention getting coalitions, show a knack for zeroing in and highlighting bills for defeat that have escaped detection of most watchdog groups, and field a small but well-respected contingent of local officials.”

Indeed, as the new legislative session opens in Florida, legislators increasingly ask, “What do the Libertarians think?” The reason is the question was on the mind of many legislators when they closed up, say some staffers.

That’s because last spring, Libertarians decided they were not too happy about the push to expand Eminent Domain supported by many leading Democrats and Republicans. That’s good news for many people worried that, with the new Supreme Court “Kelo” decision, developers can seize their homes. While people across the nation fret , Florida Libertarians led a successful coalition to limit its effects in Florida. In fact, sponsors of a bill that expanded State powers withdrew it completely after many had thought it would have an easy passage, since it didn’t even use the term “Eminent Domain.”

Libertarians, while champions of the free market, also popularized terms such as ‘corporate welfare’ and take such a dim view of anything that smacks of corporate or political crony chicanery that prominent leftists have criticized them as too anti-corporate against ‘good’ monopolies some leftists favor.

CONTROVERSIAL DECISION AFFECTS STATES DIFFERENTLY

The controversial Supreme Court decision allows local and state governments wide Eminent Domain discretion, but by the same token citizens can limit its effects through State law.

That’s what happened in Florida, where Eminent Domain is fairly limited. Republican and Democratic leaders immediately attempted to expand Eminent Domain in the State, but Libertarians organized a statewide coalition that outmaneuvered attempts to expand it—for now.

The coalition consisted of Libertarians and dissidents from across the parties unhappy with the decision and scandalized by the attempt to push through little publicized legislation that would have substantially changed Florida law. The Supreme Court decision has been subject to nationwide ridicule often led by Libertarians, who even mounted an effort to use it to seize Supreme Court Justice’s homes as public nuisances. The bill would have allowed corporations to seize people’s homes and businesses if they can promise higher tax revenue, among other criticisms, say opponents of Eminent Domain.

Libertarian critics are even harsher. They say Eminent Domain is way beyond its intended Constitutional function and is in any event as obsolete as slavery, pointing to voluntary methods used to carry out projects without it.

LIBERTARIAN PARTY BATTLE

The bill would have dramatically increased expanded eminent domain rights for local governments. The Florida Senate moved quickly to pass its procedures for local government officials to group private property together, seize it by eminent domain, and sell it to a developer.

While many watchdog groups were unaware of the bill, the Libertarian Party of Florida encouraged members to mount what Mr. Augustinowicz, who is also a local anti-Eminent Domain activist in the Sarasota area, called “feverish action.” They deluged legislators in the House, which expected to speedily give final approval, news media, and affected groups with a phone, fax and e-mail campaign that “Got the message out and drew attention to the bill’s language, thwarting it in the House of Representatives.”

“With a companion bill that was also defeated, they would essentially have revoked private property rights in the state of Florida,” Mr. Augustinowicz, said.

Mr. Augustinowicz is part of a growing number of Florida Libertarian activists who then also run for office, hold workshops, or serve on local boards, keeping public interest in Libertarian solutions at an all-time high. He mounted what local media dubbed a “respectable” campaign for Florida State House in District 71, one credited with helping prompt other parties and groups to start soliciting Libertarian input. “Currently, to claim eminent domain, the government had to show blight; they had to show that the land was a slum—that the condition of the structures was deteriorating.”

Local Libertarian party groups in counties such as Pinellas, which includes St. Petersburg and Clearwater, also met with local legislators and activists of other parties. The effort culminated with visits to State legislators by Mr. Augustinowicz.

MORE WORK TO DO

Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean Libertarians are happy with the present law.

“It’s abused. In one area they’re trying to condemn a subdivision because the road is in poor repair, even though the houses are in excellent condition. Government is even condemning property of people who located in response to a supposedly ‘long term’ government plan of a few years ago, only to find they’re homes seized when the government changed its mind.”

After the LP got active, just days before the April 30 end of the legislative session, the House bill’s sponsor and co-sponsor—Gayle Harrell and Kevin Ambler, respectively—both withdrew their support of the bill and it died in the House without going to a vote.

The Libertarian effort attracted national media attention. “One legislator actually went on Neil Boortz’s show to tell everyone she wasn’t aware of the possible misuse of the law at the time she sponsored it,” Augustinowicz said. “I was extremely happy to see this bill die in the Florida House. The fact that such a bill was even considered and passed in the Florida Senate should send a loud warning to the citizens of this country.

Part of the media attention was directed to the fact the Libertarians had located the bill at all, a fact praised by talk show callers: The Senate bill was amended to remove all references to the words “eminent domain,” replacing them with “land assembly or adjustment,” Augustinowicz said. “But it was essentially the same bill with those words purposefully avoided.”

“It’s stealth legislation. When government begins to usurp the rights of property owners, then we no longer live in a free society,” said Kim Snow, a Libertarian candidate for State House District 47 in Hillsborough, who received 30% of the vote and led local efforts in Tampa.

Now that the eminent domain-expanding bill is dead, stopping such attempts in the future has become a primary goal for activists such as Augustinowicz.

“Our state legislature tried unsuccessfully to slip this by the people,” he said, noting that no one noticed the potential dangers of the legislation until it was almost too late do take action.

“Make no mistake: This bill will be disguised and be back before our legislature again in the near future.”

Not that Libertarians intend to wait around. Libertarians have gone on the offensive in a typically unexpected but localist way: they’re meeting with local boards asking for pledges not to abuse Eminent Domain through ‘substantially benefiting’ private interests.

3 Responses to “Florida Libertarians Thwart Eminent Domain”

  1. George Whitfield Says:

    I am proud to be a member of the Florida Libertarian Party. They work together well and are effective and energetic.

  2. joe average Says:

    good article.

  3. Julie C Says:

    The Libs in Florida are doing things right, one step at a time—also they’re doing well in another coalition: http;//www.ERCPinellas.org

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