This is a look at the property rights battles that Washington County faced in the mid-1990s. The rhetoric from some of the more hardcore folks on the right sounds like some of the nonsense of those who are screeching at health care forums in 2009.
Soon after the infamous “Contract with America,” Washington County Republicans adopted a “Republican Pledge with the Voters of Washington County, Arkansas - 1996" - similar to what other republicans across the nation were also doing on a local level.
Property Rights to Dominate Local Elections
Written by Richard S. Drake
Property rights and the fear that they will be eroded by governmental decree are already setting the tone for this November's elections. Many people believe that it will be the single most important issue in Northwest Arkansas.
In fact, the preservation of private property rights is one of the planks in the "Republican Pledge with the Voters of Washington County, Arkansas - 1996," signed by that party’s candidates for office.
Among goals such as the county-wide televising of meetings, reduction of the county sales tax and the downsizing and streamlining of county government, there is also the promise that, “We support the protection of private property rights at all times.”
Many in the property rights movement blame environmentalists for their problems, since much recent regulation has been at the urging of those in the environmental movement. The move by the Washington County Quorum Court, for example, has stirred much debate over just what people can or cannot do with their own property.
In Fayetteville itself, the war of words has become at times very ugly. Do property owners, in fact, have the right to do whatever they want with their land, regardless of the dictates of a city?
Bill Yancey, Republican Justice of the Peace candidate from Prairie Grove, says that environmentalists are “a bunch of idiots.” He believes that much environmental regulation is at the behest of unknown corporate forces. This is an ironic statement, given that it is generally believed that corporate forces support the dismantling of so many of the protections we now have.
Much of the support that property rights activists claim is from rural land owners. Yancey makes no distinction between the rights of commercial land owners and private land use.
Nor does Mary Denham, a Fayetteville Realtor who ran an unsuccessful campaign for alderman in the 1994 elections. A staunch supporter of property rights, she was instrumental in the placing of a bill before the Arkansas legislature last year which would have strengthened the rights of property owners in Arkansas.
Denham, one of the founders of a property rights group called “Take Back Arkansas,” believes that what she terms as “solid science” should be the only criterion for environmental regulation, and the effect on private property. She claims that, in 1996, environmental regulations cost the United States 1.5 trillion dollars.
Denham says that Take Back Arkansas is part of a movement which is responsible for 22,000 meetings daily in this country, dealing with this issue alone.
She says that most of today’s regulations are based on the old concept of power and control. She says that the reason we have the “cleanest environment in the world” is because property owners take care of their land.
Denham fears what she claims is fast becoming an “armed bureaucracy,” citing reports that the Army Corps of Engineers will now be armed. “I don’t want to live in a police state,” she says. She went on the quote the Communist Manifesto, which argued for the abolition of private property rights.
She expressed some criticism of the sustainable communities movement in this country, which she derided as “Al Gore's garbage.” A recent teleconference in Fayetteville dealt with this very subject, though few property rights advocates seemed to be in attendance, despite some radio ads which warned that such rights would be in danger, thanks to this movement.
“God made the Earth, and he knows how to sustain it,” she says. She believes that, “It is not God's will to have zero population growth,” and that he knows how to decrease the population if need be.
Len Schaper, the Fayetteville alderman who has most come under attack from property rights groups, and is rumored to be targeted for opposition from that quarter should he decide to run again, says that he is puzzled over why he is so disliked.
“I wish folks would realize that intelligent regulations preserve property rights,” he says. He argues that such regulations can enhance the beauty and livability of a community. This can actually raise property values, in many observers’ estimations.
With most of the Republican candidates facing no opposition in the primary, the property rights issue will be sure to dominate public debate this autumn.
Ozark Gazette - April 1, 1996