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

And one other small point: No one's land was taken.
Baron, who has worked extensively on this issue, says, "The riverbed issue is a title dispute [rather than a regulatory taking] . . . and this legislation does not affect title disputes."

McClure claims the issue of who owns property along rivers has not been resolved. Besides, she says, "Whether it's a damn title issue or not, if the state's gonna take her [the woman who appears in the commercial] land from her, don't you think she ought to be compensated for it?"

Actually, no. If it is determined that the woman has title to the land, the state would not try to take it. And if she does not have title, she never owned it in the first place.

For a while, it appeared as if Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eddie Basha would take a loud stand against Proposition 300. His handlers insist he's a "no vote," but piped down on the subject when they realized that Basha and private-property rights have something in common: Both appeal to rural Arizonans.

Basha campaign manager Rick DeGraw says his candidate isn't campaigning one way or another, and the campaign released a position paper on takings: If elected, Basha promises to issue an executive order with regard to private-property rights, and vows to push for legislation that allows property owners who win in court to recover legal costs and expenses in litigation with the state.

The supposition is that by being a strong advocate of Proposition 300, Symington could win some votes away from Basha in the rural counties. But for now, it's just a supposition, because no one's released any polling numbers on Proposition 300, and few know enough to even talk about it.

"I really don't know very much about it, to tell you the truth. I really don't," says Republican pollster Bruce Merrill, who conducted polling on the tort-reform and tobacco-tax propositions but has no plans to do so with Proposition 300.

Traditionally, ballot propositions don't sway gubernatorial elections, Merrill says. "A candidate would really have to come out and personally support it or not support it in a very personal way." (Remember, though: The Arizona Classroom Improvement Initiative--often referred to as ACE--is considered to have played a role in the 1990 gubernatorial race between Symington and Democrat Terry Goddard. Symington opposed the measure, which would have increased education spending by $100 per pupil for each of the next ten years. Goddard supported ACE. Both made television commercials about it. ACE went down, and so, in the end, did Goddard.)

Proposition 300 is difficult to understand, which may lead to its defeat. But those three magic words, private-property rights, appeal to a lot of folks. Grady Gammage Jr. knows that.

"No amount of explanation about how badly written it is, about the unintended consequences of it, about the fact that it may well slow down development, not help development, about the fact that it may grind certain areas of government to a halt, about the fact that it's unnecessary--no amount of logic gets past that, once people buy into this leap of faith that we need to punish bureaucrats and environmentalists and this is the way to do it," he says.

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