It appears little relief is in sight for the long-simmering frustrations of Western conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill and private property rights advocates in general. Hamstrung by what they see as a lack of support from GOP leadership, an active band of environmentally friendly Republican moderates and an unsympathetic Clinton administration, property rights advocates say there is no clear path to legislation ensuring that landowners' private property is protected from regulatory actions they believe constitute a "taking" by the government.
House Resources Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee Chairman Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, a staunch advocate for landowners, summed up the frustration in a recent interview with CongressDaily. "There are so few of us dedicated to the fight," she said, adding: "We haven't got support from the leadership. [T]hey respond to the pressure of the moment."
Defenders of Property Rights President Nancie Marzulla echoed Chenoweth's assessment, but added that even property rights advocates in Congress, in some cases, "seem more concerned about being re-elected" than promoting their agenda.
One advocate, who asked not to be named, said he believes the GOP shot itself in the foot on the issue of takings compensation back in the 104th Congress--when it sought to push a plank of its "Contract With America" that would have defined a taking in broad terms. "I think they just screwed the issue up so badly in 1995. ... The Contract With America provision was so extreme and ill-considered ... that it let Democrats portray property rights as an extreme issue," this source said.
Image problems notwithstanding, Marzulla believes Republicans are not flexing their muscles enough. She noted that Westerners have been somewhat active in this Congress and that the House late last week passed the "Tucker Act Shuffle" takings bill that would clarify court jurisdiction over property rights lawsuits and increase the access of citizens to the courts.
Nevertheless, Marzulla said, other pivotal legislation, such as Endangered Species Act legislation sponsored by Senate Environment Drinking Water, Fisheries and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, does not go far enough. Kempthorne's bill "does help some landowners ... but there is so much more that can be done. I scratch my head and say, 'Aren't we in the majority?' "
Myron Ebell, policy director for the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, said he finds the lack of widespread Republican support for takings compensation, either as a stand-alone bill or part of other environmental bills, "puzzling [given that] property rights is an absolute winner amongst Republican [constituencies]." On the ESA, however, Ebell said Kempthorne "should be embarrassed and ashamed" by his bill, which fails to provide for takings compensation for small landowners.
A Kempthorne spokesman disputed that assessment. "Kempthorne in general staunchly supports private property rights [but] it's a question of pragmatism," he said. "[I]f the measure had everything [Kempthorne] would want ... it probably wouldn't be signed into law."