Monday, November 20, 2006

"Krusee, like Perry, won. But not by much."

Turnpikes take toll on Krusee

November 20, 2006

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

The continuing political parlor game of "What price tolls?" took an interesting turn Nov. 7.

The Big Toller himself — Gov. Rick Perry — seemed to suffer little damage from what was a sustained battering on the issue, losing only three of the dozens of counties in the paths of the two proposed Trans-Texas Corridor routes. But voters in Texas House District 52 alongside the new Texas 45 North tollway put something of a scare into state Rep. Mike Krusee.

The Williamson County Republican is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, stage-managed the birth of the controversial Phase 2 toll road plan in Austin and has been a blunt advocate for Perry's transportation plans.

His Democratic opponent, Karen Felthauser, made sure as many District 52 voters as possible knew about Krusee's fondness for tolls.

Her Web site and signs featured this slogan: "Schools yes! Tolls no!" And she told voters that Krusee was lying when he said the Trans-Texas Corridor highway through Central Texas will be Texas 130, which is partially open and should be complete by next year. Her point to the eastern part of District 52 in and around Taylor and Granger: the REAL Trans-Texas Corridor is yet to come and will take your land.

Actually, Krusee was telling the truth, although other elements of the Trans-Texas Corridor — rail, pipelines, electric lines — could end up requiring more land buys.

Now the punch line: Krusee, like Perry, won. But not by much.

In supposedly rock-ribbed Republican Williamson County, Krusee got just 49.7 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial final tally. Felthauser got 44.8 percent, and Libertarian Lillian Simmons got 5.4 percent. All in all, something well short of a rout. Krusee got almost 94 percent two years ago when Felthauser ran as a write-in.

And this after a campaign when Krusee (not counting costs in the final eight days, which won't be reported until January) spent almost $118,000 to Felthauser's $13,300.

Asked about this, Krusee said tolls mattered, but mostly because Felthauser was putting out falsehoods (in his view) that were largely unchallenged in the media.

But Krusee also maintains that he, like former GOP House member Jack Stick from northern Travis County in 2004 and Travis County Republican Ben Bentzin this year, was hurt by a district morphing from solid Republican to swing district. District 52 runs from Austin at the Travis County line, through Round Rock to Georgetown, and then covers the county's eastern half.

A look at a sampling of 20 precincts in District 52 shows that, yes, the Democrats, though still behind, are surging. But Krusee performed worse than other Republicans in those precincts, finishing about 2 percentage points behind GOP state Sen. Steve Ogden and almost 7 percentage points behind Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

I asked Krusee, who has shown an interest in higher education issues, whether he might be eyeing a different, less heated, committee to head up in the 2007 session. No, he said, if the House leadership gives the nod, he'll stay on Transportation.

He may or may not have that option in 2009.

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