LAND OF THE FREE-FOR-ALL

WITH PROPOSITION 300--THE PRIVATE-PROPERTY-RIGHTS MEASURE--ARIZONA ONCE AGAIN BECOMES A BATTLEGROUND FOR A NATIONAL RIGHT-WING CRUSADE

In his memoir, Reagan's solicitor general, Charles Fried, wrote that the order's creators, Attorney General Edwin Meese and his underlings in the Justice Department, "had a specific, aggressive and, it seemed to me, quite radical project in mind: To use the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment as a severe brake upon federal and state regulation of business and property. . . . If the government labored under so severe an obligation, there would be, to say the least, much less regulation."

An executive order does not have the power of law. A president can dismiss a predecessor's executive order, or simply ignore it. President Bill Clinton has done the latter, and he did something else that really annoyed folks like Larry Craig.

He appointed Arizona's own Bruce Babbitt to be secretary of the interior. Reagan's first interior secretary, James Watt, is widely regarded as the guy who united environmentalists--in their zeal to oppose him. By supporting limits on grazing, logging and mining, Babbitt has done the same for Wise Use supporters, who tend to be far-flung and represent a myriad of interests, but who are now congealing under national umbrellas such as Stewards of the Land and American Land Rights Association. Mark Killian is on the legal advisory board of such a group, Defenders of Property Rights. The group's national advisory board includes Reagan-era luminaries such as Robert Bork, Edwin Meese III and James Watt. And, of course, Larry Craig.

Craig says he thinks he'll get a measure through Congress next year similar to Arizona's law. He might be right. The Republicans' Contract with America promises compensation for private-property owners, and the issue is getting more attention all the time. Already, on the federal level, there's a dead heat in the environmental power struggle. The private-property activists don't have enough votes to neuter the Endangered Species Act, a law powerful enough to stop development in its tracks. On the other hand, environmentalists lack the ability to make it any more stringent.

Thirty-nine state legislatures have considered "takings" laws; nine have passed them. The versions vary wildly. Florida voters were supposed to consider a takings initiative this fall, but that state's Supreme Court struck it down.

That leaves Arizona. For the most part, property-rights champions have been the same folks who call themselves fiscal conservatives, who battle big government and try to limit regulatory red tape. But most takings legislation would actually increase government by adding another layer of bureaucracy.

In Colorado, self-described fiscal conservative Tony Grampsas, a ten-year veteran of the state's House of Representatives, has killed private-property legislation three years in a row in the House Appropriations Committee, which he chairs.

"If you get away from the emotional issue of it [private-property rights] and you start looking on the basis of what this could really cost . . . you start realizing, hey, this thing could be pretty expensive to the state," he says. Grampsas, a Republican, says he can kill takings legislation again when it comes to his committee, but if it were ever to go before the voters of Colorado, "then it becomes a matter of who has the most juice."

In Arizona, the people who favor Proposition 300 have about twice as much juice as those who oppose it.

As of October 3, Arizonans for Private Property Rights had raised $354,000, with $212,000 left in the bank. On the other side, the Arizonans for Community Protection had taken in $186,000 and spent all but $15,000.

Campaign committees can accept unlimited contributions, and both sides have raked in huge donations. Arizonans for Private Property Rights has taken $100,000 from the Arizona Realtors Association and hunks ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 from assorted homebuilders, farming and ranching organizations.

The opposition took $100,000 from the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, $5,000 from the Wilderness Society and about $1,000 from the Grand Canyon Trust.

And on both sides, money has come from out of state. "Pro" contributors include Asarco Inc. in New York ($25,000), which has sizable mining interests in Arizona, and the California Farm Bureau ($500).

"Anti"s include an investor in Aspen, Colorado, a physician in Columbus, Ohio, a lawyer in Kansas City--all of whom contributed $30 or $50--and Bob Fisher, executive vice president and chief financial officer of The Gap in San Francisco, who chipped in $1,000. Campus Greenvote in Boston donated $1,500.

The proponents of Proposition 300 have more money, and they have Mark Killian, honorary chairman of Arizonans for Private Property Rights. Not coincidentally, many of the supporters of Proposition 300 are the same folks who've been donating to Killian's legislative campaigns for years.

As speaker of the House, Killian has a great deal of influence. For one thing, he is the chairman of the Legislative Council, a committee of legislators whose responsibilities include approving a description of each proposition on the statewide ballot. This language, called "Analysis by Legislative Council," is supposed to explain a ballot measure in plain English, and is often touted as the one unbiased interpretation. Voters and journalists rely on it. The analysis is included in the explanatory ballot booklet prepared for voters by the secretary of state.

According to the Legislative Council's deputy director, Dave Thomas, Killian himself wrote practically the entire analysis of Proposition 300.

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