updated 9/22/2006 2:16:52 PM ET 2006-09-22T18:16:52

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike Beebe on Friday said he is working on legislation that would clarify the state's protections against private property being taken for private interests in Arkansas.

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Beebe's Republican rival Asa Hutchinson later accused the attorney general of switching positions on private property rights and said he should revise a legal opinion he issued stating that Arkansas had sufficient protections against the taking of private property.

In separate appearances Friday morning, Beebe and Hutchinson addressed about 250 members of the Arkansas Realtors Association at the group's convention at the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis.

Beebe, who has faced criticism from Hutchinson over eminent domain, told Realtors he's been a strong proponent of private property rights. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that a city government could take private property as part of an economic development plan.

Beebe said justices noted that Arkansas' constitution already prohibits the taking of land for use by private developers.

But Beebe said he is working with Rep. Benny Petrus, who will serve as the House speaker in the 2007 session, on legislation to clarify that prohibition. Beebe did not mention Hutchinson by name, but said that "some people" are trying to distort his position as opposing private property rights.

"Let me make this very clear: I don't believe you should take private property for private purposes, period," Beebe said. "I will do everything in my power to stop that. Lest anybody be misled or somebody tries to tell you something different, I will do everything in my power to ensure that private property is not taken for private purposes."

Playing politics?
Hutchinson, who later addressed the group, continued his criticism that Beebe has been inconsistent on private property rights. Hutchinson said if Beebe believes the law should be clarified, he needs to revise the legal opinion issued last year in response to the Kelo v. New London court case.

"Either he's trying to play politics with what he's trying to do now or he needs to revise the previous AG opinion," Hutchinson said. "I don't know where he's coming from, but it looks like he's trying to have it both ways."

Beebe on Friday praised the state's real estate market and told Realtors the state needs to act as a "steward" of its natural resources, education and economy. He repeated a proposal for a $40 million expansion of the state's voluntary pre-kindergarten programs.

He also called for more investment in biofuels, and said the benefits would go beyond helping the state's economy and environment.

"It creates additional markets for our farmers and puts more money in their pockets," Beebe said. "It moves away our dependence on foreign oil because we've got alternatives that are renewable in our own state and our own country, so we're not held hostage by OPEC."

Hutchinson, who has said the curriculum standards for some rural schools should be relaxed, said the state's standards need to reflect the rural nature of schools and said distance learning needs to be expanded.

Hutchinson, a former congressman and federal Homeland Security official, defended his work on the federal level and said he's faced criticism for his federal experience. Hutchinson told the Realtors' group that the state's surplus gives Arkansas a unique opportunity to eliminate the grocery tax altogether.

Beebe has said he wants to eliminate the tax by phasing it out over time.

Beebe and Hutchinson will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot with independent candidate Rod Bryan and Green Party nominee Jim Lendall. Bryan and Lendall did not speak at the convention Friday.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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