Land-seizure rule draws voter fury

The Baltimore Sun

In at least some states, the reaction against the notion that the government might take away land for private development was fierce yesterday.

In Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and New Hampshire, voters overwhelmingly approved measures to restrict government's power to use eminent domain to seize privately owned land for other private development.

The outcomes were seen as a resounding indication of voters' fury at a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said such takings were legal.

"The eminent domain issue resonates with voters, and they are afraid that power is going to be greatly expanded by government," said Stephanie Witt, a professor and director of the public policy center at Boise State University. "No one likes to have their home taken, and where I think we crossed some kind of boundary with citizens is when the property is taken for use in some kind of private development."

Voters in eight other states, from Arizona to Michigan, were considering similar measures.

Around the country, voters in 37 states weighed in on 205 ballot measures, dozens more than they faced two years ago. In Arizona alone, voters contended with 19 separate measures, more than any other state - a fact election officials said probably explained some voter lines there.

Nationally, party officials viewed the ballot measures as one more way to draw blocs of voters to the polls and, along the way, affect the most competitive and crucial races for Congress.

Republicans, for instance, hoped measures in eight states explicitly defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman would bring social conservatives out to vote. Democrats believed proposals in six states to raise the minimum wage would bring union supporters and low-income workers to the polls.

Urged on by labor leaders, provisions to increase the state minimum wage appeared on ballots in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio.

Supporters viewed the measures as a way to draw attention to the issue and also to draw out voters in those states where they believed discontented workers might affect key congressional races, including those in Ohio.

The proposed increases varied in different states, but all reflected a jump from the current federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. In Ohio, where voters approved the measure yesterday, the increase would raise the minimum wage to $6.85 an hour, with an annual cost-of-living increase.

Social issues also appeared on ballots across the country, as they had two years ago. In 2004, some observers said conservatives' overwhelming success in barring gay marriage in 11 states may have helped President Bush gain re-election in some states.

Voters in South Carolina and Virginia voted to define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. Voters in six other states - Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin - considered similar provisions.

Among the ballot measures were more than 70 issues brought to the ballot directly by citizens. Only twice have there been more such citizen-driven initiatives since 1902, when such initiatives were first used, said John G. Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California. The high number this year, he said, may reflect "the general growing dissatisfaction with government and politicians."

In Michigan, voters weighed an initiative to bar affirmative action by public institutions in education, employment or contracting. The proposal drew strong opposition from the state's business and labor leaders. If it passes, it is expected to set off similar challenges to affirmative-action programs in other states.

In Missouri, where one of the hardest fought Senate races in the nation was also being waged, voters considered a measure guaranteeing that any stem cell research legal under federal law, including on human embryos, be allowed in Missouri. It was also a matter of division and definition for the state's two Senate candidates: Sen. Jim Talent, a Republican, came out against it; Claire C. McCaskill, a Democrat, supported it.

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