The title here is a quote from a Georgia Power Company lobbyist, made to the Georgia House Judiciary Committee in session, 2003. The remark resulted in outrage from the audience and the committee. I was present and among the most taken-aback members of the peanut gallery.
Eminent Domain is the process by which a government forcible condemns a piece of private property in order to make public use thereof. The usual reasons for the practice include road, bridge, or other infrastructure projects. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution states that no such “taking” shall occur without proper compensation.
The subject of the particular committee meeting was a review of Georgia’s unconscionable Constitutional provision allowing for eminent domain actions by private utility companies. Such companies need not have the government condemn your land for power lines or plants, they can do it directly. Yes, we actually have that here. A resolution was before the General Assembly which called for a new Amendment to end the practice. The hearing was a natural result.
(Madness under the Gold Dome. CBS Atlanta.)
The hearing was chaired by the Hon. Tom Bordeaux of Savannah. Tom is a capable attorney and a good politician though his tenure as chair was short-lived. I was working as a legal intern at the State Administrative Office of the Courts at the time and covered the issue, one of the biggest of the 2003 session. Anyway, representatives from various utility companies were on hand to defend the procedure as vitally necessary to the State’s economy and the well-being of the citizens. Rowdy protesters and opposition speakers voiced other opinions.
The general mood of the entire committee seemed dead set against the policy. Tom remarked that if a new Constitution were drafted in 2003, it would certainly not entertain such legalized theft and trespass. The existing provision dated from the early 20th Century when telephone and electric services were relatively new. I suppose the ticks of the day deemed it necessary to modernize the Empire State of the South. The issue in general was receiving major attention nationwide.
Two years later the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Kelo v. The City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), said it was okay for the City to condemn land via eminent domain solely for the purpose of turning the land over to another private party – a developer. The theory was that the older houses condemned would not generate as much tax revenue for the City as the proposed redevelopment complex would. Thus, there existed a “public need” sufficient to justify the takings. The plan went forward. The homes were taken and leveled. Then, fate delivered the City an ironic blow. The developer failed to find financing for the redevelopment and abandoned the project. The lots sat empty. The land is now a dump. I wonder how much revenue that generates, in addition to lovely odors?
Back in Georgia, the lobbyists gave their best explanations for keeping the Constitutional provision the way it was. Essentially they said the people did not realize that they actually believed having electricity, etc. (not to mention corporate profits) were more valuable to them than the homes they reside in; silly people. Their final argument was, “The people appreciate a benevolent dictator.” When the fellow uttered those words the room grew silent. Based on the dropped jaws and red faces of the committee members one would have suspected the lobbyist had just tried to rationalize child rape.
A hurricane of angry comments followed, a verbal lynching of the lobbyist. I thought it was great. He began to back-peddle immediately in stammering, apologetic fashion. I have come to realize though his Freudian slip was, in fact, completely accurate. Most (not all, but most) people DO appreciate a benevolent dictator. I refer once again to my ancient friend, Sallust: “Only a few prefer Liberty, the majority seek nothing more than fair masters.”
People might get upset if a company or the government tells them to move out of their homes. But, the odds are tremendous a taking will only happen to someone else. In that case, the people could care less. They are more than willing to sit by as their neighbors lose their homes so long as the loss results in more creature comforts in their own homes. Cables and wires and such power televisions which display football, basketball, Nascar, reality shows, and pornos. They allow for the refrigeration of cheap beer and processed food – staples of the Amerikan diet. Air conditioning, internet, blabbing on the phone – the benefits are too numerous to list.
It is interesting to note the great debate over this subject has died down recently. Not enough people care, not enough prefer Liberty. In the end, the General Assembly did what it does best – nothing. The provision is still there ten years later. Poor Aunt Matilda may be very sympathetic when the bulldozers approach her house but she never contributes to political campaigns. Arrogant utility companies and their lobbyists give away millions of dollars a year to the ticks. They put their money where their foul mouths are. They also get their way.
This is just a little something to consider when contemplating representative republicanism. Okay, you can go watch March madness now.