Paul Jacob

Our local politicians shed crocodile tears, claiming that their larceny is laudable as the necessary by-product of “saving the economy” or “revitalizing neighborhoods.”

But such alleged developments have to be weighed against that other by-product: Namely, the abuse of our fundamental right to speak and to petition our government.

In their zealous desire for more tax receipts, politicians become heedless of basic rights.

Roland points to a number of assaults against First Amendment rights that are in part tied to the government’s addiction to taking private property though eminent domain. Perhaps the most nose-on-the-face obvious is the continuing legal saga of the city’s attempt to force Jim Roos to take down his sign protesting St. Louis’s abuse of eminent domain.

But the example Roland finds “most disturbing” is the Missouri Municipal League’s opposition to two statewide initiatives that would end eminent domain abuses. The League has filed a lawsuit challenging the ballot titles for these two measures, effectively putting the petition drives on hold.

As radio host Charlie Brennan exasperatedly explained, “Their own cities and towns are funding a lawsuit against them with their own tax dollars.” Perversely, the Municipal League gets its funding from cities and towns . . . which, remember, get their money from taxpayers, who overwhelmingly want eminent domain to be reformed.

Municipal League attorney Carrie Hermeling acknowledges that voters are likely to pass both initiatives, given the opportunity. But if the League can keep its lawsuit going, Hermeling notes that, “They aren’t going to be gathering signatures.”

And thus voters can be denied a fair and free choice on the issue.

The “they” Ms. Hermeling refers to is Missouri Citizens for Property Rights, the group promoting the two initiatives. The group’s leader, Ron Calzone, fears that legal wrangling over the ballot title is simply a backhanded method of blocking the opportunity for voters to consider his group’s two measures.

Calzone’s group, facing a May 2010 deadline to gather over 200,000 signatures on each petition, is held hostage to this litigation.

Now, in this gotcha era of technology, comes Dave Roland with a recording of comments made by Carrie Hermeling at a recent meeting of the Missouri Bar Association’s Eminent Domain Committee. Hermeling publicly admitted that the lawsuit’s “main objective” is “to delay the gathering of signatures.” Adding, “Hopefully we’re accomplishing that.”

Thwarting the people, denying basic rights — all to ensure the continued right to steal their property. Quite an accomplishment.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.