Friday, May 13, 2005

“I would vote for a Democrat for governor based on this one issue.”


May 13, 2005
The Texas Observer Copyright 2005

It looked like Governor Rick Perry’s worst nightmare. Assembled in front of the Capitol steps on May 3rd, were more than 300 rural Anglos shouting, “Impeach Perry.” These folks, mostly from Central Texas, are supposed to be Perry’s base, but instead they left their homes to demonstrate against the governor and his plan for the Trans-Texas Corridor. As conceived, the TTC would be as many as 4,000 miles of toll roads, high-speed rail, freight rail, and utility pipes crisscrossing Texas. It would be built largely by private industry. Each company would have control of its piece of the corridor for decades. The first phase, the TTC-35, which would parallel I-35 from San Antonio to Dallas, has already been contracted out to a Spanish company called Cintra.

In order to make the TTC happen, the Legislature passed a bill that gives the state increased power to condemn property. Ranchers and farmers throughout the state are mobilizing to try and stop the project, which they are afraid will take their land. Many of those gathered for the rally consider themselves Republicans, and view Perry’s TTC as an attack against property rights. The Texas Farm Bureau—not generally recognized as a left-wing organization—has come out against the proposal.

Rod Spencer from Fayetteville County in Central Texas stood in the crowd and held aloft a sign that read: “Don’t confiscate our land to give it to a foreign company.”

“Perry is a former Agriculture Commissioner, he should be concerned about saving rural land,” said Spencer, whose grandfather struggled through the Depression to keep the family ranch together. Spencer identified himself as a “straight-ticket Republican,” but said, “I would vote for a Democrat for governor based on this one issue.”

Not surprisingly, state leaders have benefited handsomely in campaign contributions from highway contractors involved in pushing the corridor, according to an analysis by the Austin-based public interest group Campaigns for People. The top 10 TxDOT contractors and TTC-35 bidders gave $341,025 to Perry between January 1, 2001 and December 31. 2004. Just Zachry Construction alone, which has partnered with Cintra to build the first phase of the corridor, gave $45,500.

The star speaker at the rally was Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is mentioned as a possible opponent for Perry in the Republican primary. As of yet, the undeclared potential frontrunner to take on Perry, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, has declined to take a position on the TTC. Hutchison’s campaign manager Terry Sullivan says that the Senator is focusing on doing her job in Congress. “She does not want to inject herself into the legislative session,” he said.

If Hutchison did decide to run against Perry, the corridor could be a potent way to peel off votes from the incumbent. It remains to be seen whether Hutchison will try. She is also the recipient of the highway contractor’s largess, including the maximum $2,000 contribution from at least three Zachry family members in the past three years.

The Texas Observer: