Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Strayhorn: "It's a land grab being crammed down our throats."

Strayhorn campaigns in San Juan

July 27,2005

Victoria Hirschberg
The Monitor
Copyright 2005

SAN JUAN — Ramona Gonzalez’s limited English didn’t allow her to fully understand what Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn — a 2006 Republican candidate for Governor — was saying at a campaign rally Tuesday, but she believed every word of it.
"I think she spoke well," Gonzalez of San Juan said. "She appeared strong."

Strayhorn rallied support at San Juan fire station No. 2 with about 50 residents, outlining her agenda: no toll roads and come March, after the Republican primary election, no Gov. Rick Perry.

Campaigners passed out Strayhorn for Governor bumper stickers and pledge cards, while many audience members held anti-toll road signs and cheered at Strayhorn’s opposition.

"It’s a land grab being crammed down our throats," Strayhorn said of a possible nine-mile toll road slicing through San Juan from Military Highway to U.S. Expressway 83. "Mayor (San Juanita Sanchez of San Juan), you just give me a holla’ and I’ll come lay down in front of a bulldozer with you and stop toll roads."

Many San Juan residents are outraged over a potential toll road because it will eat away at the small city’s land and hurt its tax base.

"It’s taking away 300 acres of property and we’re going to lose all those taxes," said San Juan resident Adriana Salazar.

The Texas Department of Transportation designed the toll road, saying the region’s growth is fueling heavy traffic. However, TxDOT has not finalized any project plans yet.

If TxDOT approves Hidalgo County’s petition to form a Regional Mobility Authority, toll roads could become a reality. The RMA, which TxDOT expects to approve in upcoming months, is a seven-member board that can generate revenue from road projects and assist in infrastructure planning. Many San Juan residents equate the RMA with the toll road, but Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said while he is against toll roads, he supports the RMA.

"(A toll road) is another form of taxation," said Garcia, the only county official present at Tuesday’s meeting. "I will advocate against toll roads in Hidalgo County."

Strayhorn, who calls herself "One Tough Grandma," has criticized the Central Regional Mobility Authority that operates in Travis and Williamson counties. She said this RMA practices double taxation without accountability and with lax expenditure controls. She said voters and residents need to hold TxDOT accountable for any new RMA’s that are created and that all involved parties must do business publicly.

"Everything TxDOT does they keep secret. They don’t disclose in the sunshine what they’re doing."

If elected, she promises to change that, referring to toll roads as highway robbery rather than democracy. She encouraged San Juan residents to continue to "speak up and speak out" at "so-called" public hearings.

"You can’t tell a Texan to give up their land and tell them to pay to go across it," she said.

TxDOT officials were not present at the meeting, but earlier in the day a spokesman said no toll road plans have been made final.

Focusing on her campaign for Governor, Strayhorn pledged to work for support in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the few strongholds for Democrats in the State of Texas.

"I’m not trying to make Republicans out of everyone," said Strayhorn, though she invited everyone to vote in the Republican March 7 primary. Texas has open primaries, meaning voters can participate in either party’s primary.

San Juan resident and democrat Arnoldo Cantu said Strayhorn could win over the always-Democrat friendly Valley.

"If she can come along and offer something new," said Cantu, she might win. "The Democrats are standing still."
Victoria Hirschberg covers Hidalgo County and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4466.

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