Trump Opponents Try To Build Property Rights Into A S.C. Primary Issue

Feb 17, 2016
Originally published on February 17, 2016 3:30 pm

Eminent domain isn't one of those issues — like abortion or foreign policy — that's guaranteed to come up every election cycle. But the slightly wonky debate over when property owners should be forced to give up land for the public good is coming up this year — especially in South Carolina, where Republicans hold their primary this weekend.

It's a real concern for some residents of South Carolina, like Jackie Bartley, who lives on a farm near Jackson. Bartley says she has recently had surveyors along her property line. She worries that has something to do with the proposed Palmetto Pipeline, which would carry petroleum through the region.

Pipeline developer Kinder Morgan says it's working with property owners to get permission to build along the route. But the company is also fighting for the right to use eminent domain in cases where deals can't be reached.

"I think people should be able to keep their property and not have to sell it if they don't want to — especially a private company like this, to take your land," Bartley says.

Bartley says it gave her pause when she heard that Donald Trump had tried and failed to expand parking at one of his New Jersey casinos through eminent domain.

"I don't think people should be able to do that — I don't care how much money they've got," she says.

The issue has surfaced twice recently on the Republican debate stage, where Trump has been on the defensive.

"These people always hit me with eminent domain, and frankly I'm not in love with eminent domain," Trump said. "But eminent domain is something that you need very strongly."

Meanwhile, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is trying to make it a problem for Trump in South Carolina and beyond. In a Cruz campaign ad, a group of children play with a Trump doll, which tries to take over the playroom through eminent domain.

The issue is also being debated in the South Carolina Legislature. This week, state senators discussed legislation that would block the Palmetto Pipeline developers from condemning private land by barring most private, for-profit companies from using eminent domain.

One of the bill's co-sponsors, Republican Sen. Shane Massey, says the debate has been heating up in South Carolina.

"When you use words like eminent domain, or you start talking about condemnation, lots of times people don't understand the legal jargon. But they surely understand it when you're coming to take their land," he says.

Even so, Massey says he doesn't see this local issue chipping away at very much of Trump's support in the state.

"I think most of his supporters are loyal enough that they're gonna stick with him regardless of what he says. At least that appears to be the case so far," Massey says.

For landowner Jackie Bartley, Trump's past support of eminent domain is "points against him," but he's still high on her list. She says she's still leaning toward voting for him — or maybe, Cruz.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Eminent domain is not one of those issues like abortion or jobs or foreign policy that is guaranteed to come up every election cycle. But the slightly wonky debate over when property owners should be forced to give up land for the public good is coming up this year. It's a real concern for some residents of South Carolina, which holds its Republican primary this weekend. NPR's Sarah McCammon has more.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Jackie Bartley lives on a farm near Jackson, S.C. As we hike down a wooded hill, she points out a rail line that cuts through her property.

JACKIE BARTLEY: OK, there's the railroad. There's the railroad right down there. You see that, where the gravel and the railroad is?

MCCAMMON: I do.

BARTLEY: Yeah, OK.

MCCAMMON: Bartley says she's had surveyors along her property line. She worries that has something to do with the proposed Palmetto Pipeline which would carry petroleum through the region. The pipeline developer, Kinder Morgan, says it's working with property owners to get permission to build along the route. But the company is also fighting for the right to use eminent domain in cases where deals can't be reached. Jackie Bartley hates that idea.

BARTLEY: I don't - I think people should be able to keep their property and not have to sell it if they don't want to and not be able to take - somebody, especially a private company like this, to take your land.

MCCAMMON: So she says it gave her pause when she heard that Donald Trump had tried and failed to expand parking at one of his New Jersey casinos through eminent domain.

BARTLEY: I don't think people should be able to do that. I don't care how much money they got.

MCCAMMON: The issue has surfaced twice recently on the Republican debate stage, where Trump has been on the defensive.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: These people always hit me with eminent domain. And, frankly, I'm not in love with eminent domain. But eminent domain is something that you need very strongly.

MCCAMMON: Meanwhile, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is trying to make it a problem for Trump in South Carolina and beyond.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Look, I got the Trump action figure.

MCCAMMON: In this Cruz campaign ad airing here, a group of children play with a Trump doll who tries to take over the play room.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Check out my house, Mr. Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: That's a lousy house. I'm going to take your house with eminent domain and park my limos there.

MCCAMMON: The issue is also being debated in the South Carolina legislature. Yesterday, state senators discussed legislation that would block the Palmetto Pipeline developers from condemning private land.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CREIGHTON COLEMAN: Even government sometimes abuses it. Are you aware of that? And I can tell you some stories, and I've told you some stories about...

TOM YOUNG: You've shared some stuff with me, yes, about government...

COLEMAN: ...About government trying...

MCCAMMON: That was Democratic State Senator Creighton Coleman and one of the bill's sponsors, Republican Senator Tom Young. Another sponsor, Republican Shane Massey, says the debate is heating up in South Carolina.

SHANE MASSEY: When you use words like eminent domain, or if you start talking about condemnation, lots of times people don't understand the legal jargon. But they surely understand it when you're coming to take their land.

MCCAMMON: But Massey says he doesn't see this local issue chipping away at very much of Trump's support in the state.

MASSEY: I mean, I think most of his supporters are loyal enough that they're going to stick with him regardless of what he says.

MCCAMMON: For Jackie Bartley, Trump's past support of eminent domain is a point against him. But he's still high on her list.

BARTLEY: Well, I don't know. I liked him all right. And then, I don't know, Ted Cruz coming in second. And the rest of them I'm not too taken with (laughter).

MCCAMMON: With three days until the primary, Cruz is hoping his attacks on Trump over this and other issues will help him overtake Trump in the minds of voters. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, North Augusta, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.