US Senator George Allen: A Property Rights Betrayal

On property rights issues, “conservative” US Senator George Allen is turning himself into a disaster. People at the ground level—the “grass roots” from across Virginia—are expressing surprise and anger with the duplicity coming from the George Allen camp. I have been hearing from staunch Republicans who know Mr. Allen and have worked with him in years past. Betrayal and dishonesty are the words many of them are using.

As a US Congressman in 1991, he fervently spoke against “the gimmick of regulation and superimposing, whether it’s these…these… eligibility for historic designations or some other sort of nefarious way of… ah, regulating your property and the use of your property without compensation.”

In Governor Allen’s Inaugural Address, 1994, he said: “Virginians understand that government has been steadily whittling away at their freedoms…diminishing opportunity and stifling initiative under the heavy, grimy boot of excessive taxation and spending and regulation…In recent times, the will of the people has been frustrated by an unholy alliance of manipulative well-heeled interests, entrenched bureaucrats and political opportunists. It is time for this to end. For this great house that Jefferson designed was meant to be the people’s capitol, not the citadel of special interests.”

Today, he wholly supports that unholy alliance of manipulative well-heeled interests, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground (JTHG) National Heritage Area (NHA), a National Park Service scheme to impose back-door federal land-use control on a million acre swath of the Piedmont. His complete policy reversal has created a substantial backlash among Virginia voters.

In addition, there is a spillover effect on other “conservatives” who hold local and state offices—some of whom see support for NHAs as a quick and easy way to use federal pork to gain green/preservationist votes. At their peril they too are ignoring citizens’ growing discontent. Associating themselves with Senator Allen’s fading aura may prove to be a mistake.

Apparently Mr. Allen believes he can walk the path of John Warner and Frank Wolf while preaching a Jeffersonian sermon. Allen’s words ring hollow. Joseph Farah wrote in Judgment day for Republicans, WorldNetDaily: “‘Republican’ no longer connotes smaller government, more freedom, less intrusion in our personal lives and a more vibrant economy…‘Republican’ today more likely connotes — even for those who tend to vote for the party — incompetence, corruption, compromise, betrayal...They have squandered the greatest historic opportunity to rein in unconstitutional government in Washington since the War Between the States...Maybe Americans will understand there is no national salvation to be found in one political party or the other. Maybe they will begin to understand that we are not supposed to be a people ruled by elitists in Washington.”

Last Friday, I spoke with an elderly gentleman and his wife from a traditionally hard-core “conservative” part of Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley—now afflicted by the travesty of Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District/National Heritage Area (a Frank Wolf (R-Va-10th), John Warner (R-Va) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va-6th) collaboration) where the “management entity” has been gobbling up land as fast as NPS funds are appropriated.

Both of these folks thought a great deal of George Allen when he was governor. Today they want nothing to do with Senator Allen. The husband intends to vote for Allen's opponent: “I don’t know anything about him [Jim Webb], but it’s time to clean house, all of them, Warner, Allen and Goodlatte. The whole damned lot.” His wife does not intend to vote at all. She says she’s tired of being “betrayed by conservatives.”

Neither of these folks is politically ‘sophisticated.’ They have just “had it” with broken promises, with higher taxes, bigger government, and with more state and federal regulation of their property and lives. They have had it with federal and state grants going to special interests. They have had it with favoritism—where local politicians use “grants” to help “spongers” get jobs at “tourist destinations”—approving the “historic preservation” con-game that enriches the chamber of commerce crowd on the back of productive taxpayers. The husband says “real jobs go overseas, or go to the illegals, and Congress does everything possible to make the mess worse.”

At one time, just a few years ago, they talked about leaving their farm to their grandson. Now they talk about “we might have to sell it. Everything we’ve worked for since we got married…” The Allen camp is, in their eyes, oblivious to them and their very real concerns. Instead, carefully-staged “listening tours” are scheduled, arranged and attended by party faithful. Two very different worlds exist side-by-side.

Another friend from along Rt. 15 commented: “George Allen has either forsaken property rights for the smart growth vote or doesn’t really understand or care what his staff is doing.” I guess that’s a nice way of putting it.

My elderly farm friends had a more earthy comment not fit to print. And they wanted to know, “When was the last time George Allen opened a gate to the cattle pen, with his fancy cowboy hat and boots, and helped work calves? When was the first time?”

Rt. 15 friend continues, “The Journey Through Hallowed Ground ‘management entity’ is a self-serving, self-appointed Partnership. It is not an elected body subject to control by voters or even by local elected officials. It is limited by Allen’s bill to its original members. The Partnership’s lawyers wrote the bill. Directors are senior officers of Scenic America, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Piedmont Environmental Council and other preservationist groups. Its web site is registered to an officer of Scenic America and administered by an employee of the Piedmont Environmental Council.”

Allen talks about another Senate JTHG hearing in November—after the elections—another bone thrown and another whitewash of the dangers to ordinary people’s property within JTHG boundaries—from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, through Maryland on down to Jefferson’s home, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia.

In Arizona, the local Farm Bureau has led a 5-year fight to have farmland excluded from management restrictions of the Yuma Crossing Heritage Area. Many legislators are becoming increasingly concerned about NHAs undermining property rights. On June 29th, Congressman Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland wrote to the Director of the National Park Service: “I am writing to express my opposition to H.R. 5195, the Journey through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Act of 2006...I feel this bill, as currently drafted, will unjustifiably limit private property rights for many of my constituents. Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.’ If this legislation becomes law, I am afraid that private property owners along the proposed Heritage Area will forfeit their property rights to an unelected ‘management entity.’ The bill would impose de facto federal zoning of the proposed area.”

Congressman Bartlett understands his duty is to protect the rights of citizens. On September 28th, he testified on the JTHG issue before the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks. Perhaps George Allen and his staff should obtain and study a copy of Mr. Bartlett’s testimony and letter. Much can be learned from his plain-spoken common sense.

It seems Mr. Allen and his staff are leading some landowners to believe the JTHG bill can be ‘tweaked’ to add additional protections for property rights. So far, nothing they have done or propose to do indicates they have the slightest intention of protecting our rights. Behind the scenes, talk has been coming out of both sides of the Allen camp’s mouth. It’s down-to-the-wire election-year politics full of empty promises. Voters are not ‘buying’ the sweet nothings they once did. They realize, come the day after Election Day, George Allen, if reelected, will be back in Washington, D.C. hobnobbing with wealthy patrons and matrons, and for the rest of us it will be back to “business as usual.”

A Richmond friend writes: “The exclusionary goals of the JTHG Partnership groups are plastered all over their web sites, as is their unconstitutional subordination of private property to their perceived sense of ‘the common good.’ The latest caper of the Piedmont Environmental Council is to hire lawyers to fight Dominion and Allegheny Power’s request for a power line to Washington and Baltimore because it would violate ‘private land, publicly held open space, prime agricultural soils, historic sites, historic districts, magnificent viewsheds and a high concentration of conservation easements.’ If the Partnership’s managers can deny energy to meet the future needs of families in the D.C. area in the name of historic preservation, imagine the controls on low income housing, traffic re-routing, home improvement, business permits, timber harvesting and farming to eventually be included in their ‘management plan.’ Giving this Partnership federal management authority and federal money to do the managing, Allen’s bill endangers property rights for all but a privileged few.”

This is essentially the same ‘partnership’ that turned Loudon County upside down during the past decade, on its ear, costing taxpayers untold millions for lawsuits fought over preservationist downzoning restrictions—an attempt to exclude the average working person or family from the western third of the county so as not to intrude on the ‘plantations’ of the gentry. S. Bruce Smart, former president of Continental Can Company, favored more restrictions to protect his 600 acre “horse and cattle farm” from the serfs who could only afford a modest home and a few acres. He said, “Restricting development to homes on 50-acre lots sounds somewhat elitist, but not everyone has a Monet in their living room. And you wouldn’t tear up a Monet just because not everybody can have one.” Bruce, do you ever wonder what the po' folks are doin'?

The JTHG Partnership is headed by Cate Magennis Wyatt. Who is Cate Wyatt? Filmmaker Ron Maxwell calls her the “Joan of Arc of the Piedmont.” Time Magazine reported she was best known for her “previous relationships” with “socially active Senators Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd and John Warner, and Virginia Governor Doug Wilder.”

Like George Allen, she claims to be “conservative” and declares one of her objectives is to “ensure quality of life for the communities along the corridor” and “that nothing we are suggesting constrains landowners’ rights.”

One of her lead partners, Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, says the historic sites face horrible, nasty threats “without comprehensive planning to manage sprawl and encourage appropriate growth...” The National Trust believes “the challenge in preserving and protecting the that the vast majority of the land is privately held.” Privately held? Apparently what the National Trust really wants is publicly held or publicly-controlled land. Under their collectivist ideal, there could not be a challenge from private landowners exercising their rights.

Since George Allen has philosophically bought into the Partnership’s shell-game, it’s no wonder he is backing a federally mandated and funded “management entity.” Mr. Moe indicates it’s needed. How else do you determine what kind of growth is “appropriate?” It seems Mr. Allen thinks Mr. Moe’s ideas about government controlling people and their property are the best thing since cornbread and soup beans. Could such a plan violate property rights? Nonsense! Look up manage and comprehensive plan in Black’s Law Dictionary.

But it gets better, much better. One of the best parts is Cate Wyatt’s plan to set up a Real Estate Investment Trust, “an innovative mechanism” to fund the purchase of “vital sites and large parcels.” She says, “It will be a long-term investment hold and appeal to socially conscious investors. After purchasing private land, the trust would place [conservation] easements and restrictive uses on the properties and then sell them. Farmers and landowners have no place to go but to a developer. We want to give them an alternative.”

Fetch the violin. My tears are starting to flow. Cate, the tooth fairy, and her investors are giving something to farmers? In exchange, what was once their land will forever be burdened with socially conscious restrictions! Of course, nothing she is suggesting “constrains landowners’ rights.”

After years of investigations by the Senate, by the IRS and a long series of articles in the Washington Post detailing abusive practices by land trusts, conservation easements, tax shelters and other shady tax transactions, Congress recently approved a tremendous expansion of federal conservation tax incentive for conservation easement donations. George Allen voted for it.

Who are these “socially conscious investors?” Who are these folks George Allen has gotten in bed with who are wealthy enough and connected enough to purchase and hold those “vital sites and large parcels?” Who gets the expanded federal conservation tax incentives so their socially conscious investments pay big dividends? They might be members of the Piedmont Preservationist A-List: the Paul Mellon Estate; Ron Maxwell (Gods and Generals); Ted Turner; Virginia S. Warner, daughter of Senator John Warner; Jacqueline Mars, of candy company fame; Stephen M. Wolf, chairman of US Airways; Sandy Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems Inc.; S. Bruce Smart... and etc.

But if Cate Wyatt is really thinking big (and I suspect she knows exactly how big and how expensive a million acres can be to preserve “for future generations”), maybe she has something else in mind, such as convincing her multi-billionaire oil-baron father-in-law, Oscar Wyatt, Jr., and some of his socially conscious friends to look into the “investment opportunities” in the Piedmont.

Unfortunately, last October 21st, 81-year old Oscar was arrested at his Texas mansion by the FBI and charged with bribing Iraqi officials in the UN Oil-For-Food scandal. If convicted for paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, he faces 62 years in the slammer and seizure of at least $1 Billion in pocket change from his and two Swiss business partners’ wallets.

But if Oscar can git a few of his amigos in Washington, D.C. to help smooth things over, and with George keepin’ the cowhands straight down at the Senate Corral, ain’t no tellin’ how much of that million-acre Piedmont Pea-patch Cate and her pardners could save from inappropriate private ownership. Dagnabbit! They’ll jes’ head them black-hatted hombres off at the pass!

YessireeBob! “Joan of Arc of the Piedmont” and “Ol’ Slim” Allen are saddled up and ready to ride their hosses into the Pennsylvania Avenue Sunset while Oscar stands at the bunkhouse door singing Happy Trails. Sounds like a Ted Turner Western Classic.