Saturday, October 21, 2006

Governor Perry gets his 90 Day TTC Eviction Notice


Governor Rick Perry

October 21, 2006

The People of Texas condemn your actions. Your underhanded self-serving deeds show that you have chosen to rule rather than serve the People.

Our property is not yours to steal, broker or lease to multinational corporations and developers for their profit. Our land, livelihood and heritage are not commodities to be traded by your political appointees and cronies.

We will not subsidize your $200 Billion Trans-Texas Corridor Corporate Welfare Boondoggle Program with our hard-earned tax dollars, commuting tolls, and more than half a million acres of our private land.

You have forgotten that you serve us. You were graciously given a chance to change your course during the last legislative session, but you continued to demean, dismiss, and mock us with your actions. We want no more of the same.

You are hereby on notice to vacate your temporary dwelling in Austin within 90 days (Inauguration Day), to make way for a person who represents all Texans.

We follow your lead in allowing you 90 days to vacate, since you supported legislation which will give Texas citizens 90 days to vacate after confiscation of their land through eminent domain. You, too, have no recourse. You are, hereby, ordered to vacate the premises for the public good.


The Citizens of Texas


Friday, October 20, 2006

"Rick Perry is one of the least effective governors in Texas history."

Our Views

Elect Strayhorn governor of Texas

October 20, 2006

The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2006

Rick Perry is one of the least effective governors in Texas history. Fortunately, the Texas Constitution does not give him much power, preventing him from doing as much damage as he otherwise might inflict on the state.

Rather than tackle the critically important but difficult challenge of reforming how Texas funds its public schools earlier in his time in office, Perry preferred instead to push for off-cycle congressional redistricting, which was premature, and to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions, which solves no real problems.

Only after the Texas Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that the state's system of funding public education was unconstitutional did Perry finally, at long last, decide to do something.

And while the new business tax former state Comptroller John Sharp designed for Perry is a good start on tax reform, it is far from the end. Unfortunately, we doubt that the governor will go further with much-needed changes in how Texans fund their state government.

In lieu of reforming the state's tax system to fund new public highways, Perry pushed for a gargantuan network of toll roads across the state that is larger than needed and will take too much privately owned land off of the tax rolls. The primary beneficiary will not be the people of Texas, but rather the Spanish-controlled consortium that will build the Trans-Texas Corridor and collect the tolls.

Perry's Texas Transportation Commission refused to make the state's contract with Cintra-Zachry public, even after Attorney General Greg Abbott ordered its release. Only when public pressure in this campaign season grew irresistible did Perry's commission back down and follow Abbott's order.

The governor's closest allies are deep-pocket bag men such as James Leininger, who seeks to undermine public schools and divert much-needed money from their operation, and anti-tax zealots such as Grover Norquist, who wants to shrink government until it is small enough to fit in the bath tub, where he then would drown it.

Never mind the millions of Texans who need properly funded public schools and state and local government services.

Fortunately, Texas voters have two credible choices to replace Perry and give the state a more effective governor, despite the office's constitutional limitations.

The first is Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the state comptroller who is running for governor as an independent after having been both a Democrat and a Republican.

Strayhorn has an impressive record of public service. Before winning her current post in 1998, she was a member, then president of the Austin school board, the mayor of Austin, a member of the state insurance board and a member of the Texas Railroad Commission.

The centerpiece of Strayhorn's campaign is public education, an issue with which she has been involved through most of her adult life. She wants real results from Texas public schools, rather than teaching the TAKS test and using it as a tool for punishing schools and teachers. She wants to recruit and retain qualified teachers by paying them adequately. And she wants a long-term, reliable source of state funding of public schools.

Strayhorn wants to rescue state government from the deep-pocket special interests that dominate it today and return it to the control of the people of Texas. As an independent, she pledges to work with both parties in the Legislature to bridge the partisan divide that hinders effective governance. And she opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The second is Chris Bell, the Democratic nominee. The former U.S. representative and Houston City Council member also makes education the centerpiece of his campaign. Like Strayhorn, he wants to ensure that Texas public schools are properly financed for the long term.

More than that, Bell wants to create a Bipartisan Commission on Public Education to examine in depth the mission of the state's public schools in the 21st century, with the heightened competitiveness of a global economy. How and what students are taught and learn are as important as how the schools are funded, Bell correctly emphasizes.

The Democrat called the Trans-Texas Corridor "a case study in corruption and cronyism" and pledges that one of his "first acts as governor would be slamming the brakes on the whole plan."

Both Bell and Strayhorn support embryonic stem cell research and using state money to make Texas a world-class leader in this research, with the hope of treatments and cures for an array of diseases and disabilities.

In our view, the nod goes to Strayhorn because she has a proven record in state government and knows how it is supposed to work. Running as an independent gives her a rare opportunity to work fairly with both parties and make more effective use of the governor's bully pulpit to do what is good for Texas and all Texans, not just for one or the other party or deep-pocket special interests.

© 2006 The Victoria Advocate:


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Houston Chronicle endorses Strayhorn for Governor


Strayhorn for governor

The state comptroller recognizes that education is the key to solving Texas' problems.

Oct. 19, 2006

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2006

As Election Day approaches, Texas finds itself locked in a government and tax structure better suited to the 19th century than to the 21st. Its depleted natural resources can no longer finance quality education with money to spare. Its low taxes and limited government regulation are no longer enough to lure businesses looking for a skilled work force and a high quality of life for their executives and employees.

The future of Texas lies with its children, yet the state is failing many of those children on almost every level. One out of every four Texas children lives in poverty. About 70 percent of these impoverished children have parents who work but receive low pay and no benefits. Too many children growing up in Texas are poorly educated — a drag on the economy that reduces tax revenue as it drives up demand for social services.

One in four children is without health insurance — the highest rate in the United States. Uninsured children tend to be unhealthy and receive care in expensive hospital emergency rooms, burdening taxpayers and employers who pick up the tab.

Texas officials have not acted vigorously to reduce toxic air pollution, particularly in the Houston area. Perhaps the politicians in Austin are too concerned with maintaining the profits of existing businesses or don't want to offend campaign contributors — or worse, are simply indifferent to public health. Businesses have been deterred from moving here, and many residents are at increased risk for cancer and — especially with children and the elderly — respiratory disease.

Texas badly needs to change its philosophy of governing. In hopes of fostering this change, the Houston Chronicle endorses Carole Keeton Strayhorn for governor. Of the four candidates, she is best equipped to shake up the status quo in a way that balances the needs of both business and residents.

Strayhorn is running as an independent, portraying herself as an outsider who wants to give Austin a jolt. In one sense that is true. She would bring a fresh style of leadership to the executive branch. But it should be remembered that Strayhorn is no novice when it comes to working the levers of government.

She has a lifetime of experience in government and public service. Once mayor of Austin, then a member of the powerful Texas Railroad Commission, Strayhorn serves as state comptroller. She knows how state government operates and how to make it more efficient and effective. Government, she says, can be leaner without being meaner.

More than any other candidate in this race, Strayhorn recognizes that the key to solving Texas' problems and securing the state's future is education. Half of all state tax dollars go to the public schools, yet half of Texas' children drop out before graduating from high school. In the information age, good jobs require higher education, yet too few of those who graduate go on to college.

The population of Texas is rapidly becoming more Hispanic, an ethnic group in which children are disproportionately at risk of dropping out. Unless Texas does a better job of keeping all children in school and preparing them for higher education, the state will not have enough middle-class taxpayers to pay for the education and government services a civilized society requires.

Strayhorn promises to make Texas public schools a model for the nation. She has a blueprint to raise teacher pay, recruit quality teachers, provide adequate and reliable school funding, increase student performance and cut the disastrous dropout rate. She has won the backing of the state's teachers.

Unhealthy children tend to be poor students. To increase the number of Texas children with health insurance, Strayhorn vows to make maximum use of the Children's Health Insurance Program, better known as CHIP and largely financed by the federal government. She decries decisions in recent years to cut the program's services and send hundreds of millions of dollars contributed by Texans to other states. She would end the contract that left registration and eligibility for social services in the hands of an inept and uncaring private company.

Gov. Rick Perry has missed his chance to make the kind of changes Texas needs. The other two candidates have not shown the kind of vision and leadership to do any better. The Chronicle believes only Carole Keeton Strayhorn has the experience and savvy to win election to the governorship and then use the office to improve public education and change the course of Texas for the better.

© 2006 Houston Chronicle:


"Maybe Texas should just pay for better highways?"


For whom the corridor tolls

October 19, 2006

John Young
The Waco Tribine-herald
Copyright 2006

The only jab that scored against Rick Perry in his last campaign was his opponent’s use of a video from a traffic stop in which Perry told a state trooper to “let us get on down the road.”

Who imagined that our governor would set out, upon re-election, to construct a super highway he could use all by himself?

Perry portrays the Trans-Texas Corridor as the answer to, um, swift motor conveyance.

With the tolls foreseen if and when it ever happens, only Perry could afford it, and only by dipping into his $9 million campaign chest.

Of course, officials with Spanish contractor Cintra-Zachry have been good to Perry. They’ve donated $59,000 this year to his re-election. Maybe he’d get a lifetime toll tag.

Then again he may not live that long. That’s no comment on Perry’s longevity. The state says 2014 is a target date. But none of us may live to see Perry’s ultimate road trip.

When I read that it might cost $15 in projected tolls to drive from Waco to Austin on it, I visualized two things: (1) me never using it; (2) the bullet train that wasn’t.

You may remember the bullet train. In the ’90s, Texas went though similar rigmarole with it. It would have had some of the same characteristics. The leading suitor was a foreign company (French). The plan inflamed landowners far and wide. And the state was committed to spending no money constructing it.

Ultimately, the plan fell apart largely on the latter concern. It was not feasible to build a high-speed rail without a considerable state subsidy. Of course, it’s absurd that subsidy of an alternative means of transportation should be verboten if the state really needs it. See how taxpayers subsidize vehicular and air travel.

Now we have a proposed mega-superhighway to be funded by tolls alone. No tax dollars going that-away. No, sir.

Well, I’m here to tell you that if tolls are going to 15.2 cents per mile for cars and 58.5 cents per mile for trucks (Texas Department of Transportation projections), you can set speed limits however you want on the Trans-Texas Corridor. The only vehicles on it will be Brinks trucks hauling gold ingots and that solitary limousine carrying an ex-governor of Texas who still, even in 2014, has good hair.

Maybe by 2014 we’ll know the details of the state’s contract with Cintra-Zachry, something Attorney General Greg Abbott has sued to obtain but which Perry and Co. have fought.

It’s proprietary, see? Perry believes in contracting government out whenever possible. And with it goes pertinent information that is “proprietary” and none of your business, even if the contract is awarded in your name.

A WFAA report calls Nov. 7 a “referendum on the Trans-Texas Corridor.” Maybe so. Of course, with a field split between four major candidates, three of whom are blasting the TTC, even the loser in this referendum is likely to win.

The real referendum, if this boondoogle proceeds, will be in motorists who vote with their bumpers. They’ll opt for clogged interstates over confiscatory tolls by a foreign company.

Maybe Texas should just pay for better highways, and for rail alternatives, you know?

John Young’s column appears Thursday and Sunday. E-mail:

Sponsored Links

© 2006 The Waco Tribune-Herald:


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Either Cintra or Zachry to build TTC-69

Groups submit proposals to develop TTC-69 project

October 18, 2006

The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2006

Two private-sector groups have submitted proposals to develop the Trans-Texas Corridor-69, a 600-mile thoroughfare that may wind around Lufkin and Nacogdoches one day.

The bid process is part of the effort to create a public-private partnership that the Texas Department of Transportation says would speed the construction of "one of the state's priority transportation projects."

Trans-Texas Corridor-69, if and when it is built, is expected to connect with Interstate 69, which will stretch from Canada to Mexico. The proposed Texas corridor would start in South Texas and pass Houston, Lufkin and Nacogdoches before hitting Texarkana and/or breaking off into Louisiana.

An ongoing environmental study is expected to narrow TTC-69's proposed route to a four-mile-wide swath — or determine that it shouldn't be built at all. The study began in early 2004. Environmental studies for projects with the scope of TTC-69 typically take five years to complete, according to Ric Williams, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission.

The two groups that are competing to develop TTC-69, according to TxDOT, are Texas-based Zachry American Infrastructure and ACS Infrastructure Development Inc., and Bluebonnet Infrastructure Investors, led by Cintra.

The proposals detail the groups' experience in developing and financing transportation projects similar to TTC-69, and include conceptual proposals describing how the team would finance, design, construct, operate and maintain the corridor here. Williams, during a visit to Lufkin in April, said TTC-69 would likely be a toll road.

TxDOT's next step, the agency said in its Keep Texas Moving newsletter this week, is to review the proposals, which could be done by next month.

"Teams with experience, qualifications and innovative engineering will be placed on a short list of potential strategic partners for TTC-69," TxDOT stated in the newsletter.

Once the proposals are reviewed, they'll have to be approved by the Texas Transportation Commission. If that happens, TxDOT will request detailed proposals from the short list of potential strategic partners, according to the agency. TxDOT could select a strategic partner by late 2007.

If TTC-69 is environmentally approved, and a strategic partner is in place, the project "would be developed as needed and as private sector resources are available," TxDOT stated in its newsletter.

On the Web:,

© 2006 The Lufkin Daily News:


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"I can't endorse doing it in a manner that disregards the concerns of local government and citizens."

Trans-Texas Corridor hot issue in governor's race

October 17, 2006

Copyright 2006

The governor's race is becoming a referendum on the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road.

Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry supports the TTC that would parallel Interstate 35 from Laredo to Oklahoma.

However, it could gobble up 81,000 acres of rural land according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Also, a large chunk of the land used would be in North Texas.

Lance Haynes, a Republican, said he wonders if his family's 68 acres in rural Collin County might be covered in concrete in the near future.

The land lies within the path where the state could route the TTC and he's worried.

"It has the potential to completely wipe out everything that our family has here," he said.

With population and traffic congestion growing in Texas and funds tight, Perry said the TTC is the quickest answer.

"We must build more roads and we must build infrastructure that works safely, thoughtfully and that's economically viable," he said.

While wide open spaces separate the landowners in the path of the TTC, they are very much together in opposing it and have lots of company. The Texas Farm Bureau, and even the Texas Republican Party, is against the TTC.

Perry's opponents, Democrat Chris Bell and Independents Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn, are also adversaries of the plan.

Strayhorn attended many of the public hearing on the TTC over the summer.

"They are literally cramming toll roads down Texans' throats; and the people don't want it," she said.

A TxDOT video explains that a private company would finance and build the corridor in return for collecting tolls for 50 years.

Cintra-Zachry, mostly owned by a Spanish company, is designing the TTC and will bid to build it.

"If someone has a better plan bring it to the hearings," Perry has responded to the criticism.

But opponents, partially financed by Strayhorn, made a web video as well that lampoons the TTC and Perry.

Perry, whose hometown of Paint Creek is north of Abilene, said he is listening.

"I'm sensitive to those landowners," he said. "I come from a very rural area."

But many rural voters deeply disagree.

"But doing it in a manner that disregards the concerns of local government and citizens, I can't endorse that," Haynes said on Perry's position.

© 2006 WFAA-TV:


"That's not democracy. That's dictatorship."

Candidate proposes limits on eminent domain


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

FORT WORTH -- David Van Os, Democratic candidate for state attorney general, proposed a state constitutional amendment Monday that would allow the use of eminent domain to seize property only in cases that involve public safety and security.

The San Antonio lawyer made the announcement to about 50 supporters at a rally in front of the Tarrant County Courthouse.

It was the 250th county courthouse Van Os has visited this year as part of his "whistle-stop tour" of all 254 county courthouses in Texas that ends Friday in Austin.

Van Os said his proposed amendment is a direct response to the Trans-Texas Corridor, a planned network of toll roads, freeways and rail lines that would be built in part on land seized via eminent domain. The amendment would prohibit the use of eminent domain to acquire private property for economic reasons.

"That's not democracy. That's dictatorship," Van Os said.

The proposed amendment also calls for banning the creation of a toll road in any county where voters haven't approved the creation of such a system.

Democratic candidates statewide have used their opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor to rally voters.

Van Os, shouting over the roar of passing cars on Weatherford Street in downtown Fort Worth, touted plans to investigate allegations of price-gouging by oil, electric and insurance companies.

"Come Jan. 1, when I get sworn in, I'm coming after you," Van Os said, referring to oil companies.

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for his second term, investigated complaints of high gas prices in late 2005 and said that, for the most part, higher prices were not the result of gouging but rather of market forces.
Aman Batheja, 817-390-7695

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


"It's just validating all of the terrible things that we thought were going to happen."

Corridor critics are quiet as they examine contract


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

Secret parts of a contract for the Trans-Texas Corridor have been out for more than two weeks now.

So has a development plan that outlines how state transportation officials and a foreign-led consortium plan to plow the countryside with toll roads and railways to relieve growing traffic on Interstate 35.

That's plenty of time to begin scouring the thousands of pages — on the Web at — to find out what the big secret was.

But so far, no one can or will say if there's a detail, some twist or mumbo jumbo that, if found, would blow the lid off the corridor project.

"There is no big secret there," said Gov. Rick Perry, whose neck is on the political chopping block for proposing the corridor idea four years ago. "If you find anything wrong, let us know and we'll address it."

Key details in the contract between the Texas Department of Transportation and a consortium led by Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio, were kept secret until the development plan could be finished, Perry said.

And what a ride that gave toll critics, who for a year and a half blasted state officials for allowing secret contracts with foreign countries. Release of the information Sept. 28, less than six weeks before the Nov. 7 election, has slowed that train to a crawl.

Even so, a secret may still lurk in the contract, said transportation planner and toll critic Bill Barker, a volunteer wonk for the San Antonio Toll Party.

Barker recently took on a big consulting job and hasn't had time to look.

"I'm sure I'll read about it in the paper," he said.

But David Stall is looking.

Stall said he formed two years ago because he thought there was something funny about Perry's plan to crisscross the state with 4,000 miles of corridors, shadowing interstates while skirting cities.

Companies such as Cintra and Zachry would profit for 50 years from tolls, gas stations and restaurants, while towns would see their tax bases dip and economic opportunities sucked away, Stall says.

Also, farmers and ranchers would be forced to give up land to feed the 1,200-foot-wide swath of roads, rails and utility lines. And some farm-to-market highways won't connect to the corridor, while other roads won't even cross it.

So Stall has been poring over the contract and development plan to look for cracks.

"We're only about a third of the way of putting it all together," he said. "Of course, we have full-time jobs, which slows it down considerably."

Early on, Stall thought he may have hit on something when it looked like 17 pages of the contract were missing. But it turned out they were just incorrectly numbered. Nevertheless, there are problems, he said.

Traffic estimates show sections of the toll road would be busier than nearby I-35, which defies common sense, he said. And route maps mirror a recommended area in an environmental study now under way, suggesting the study is nothing but a rubber stamp.

"I don't think there's really a line or a sentence in there that's a smoking gun," Stall said. "It's just validating all of the terrible things that we thought were going to happen."

TxDOT spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said routes in the contract and development plan were used merely to estimate finances and that the environmental study, using public input, will determine alignments.

As far as the traffic projections, she said they're likely to be revised anyway.

"We've always said that this plan is going to change," Garcia said.

State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is challenging Perry for governor, said she has some changes in mind.

"As governor, I would first of all look at that contract that I think ought to be busted."

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News:


Monday, October 16, 2006

"Did Texans vote on the Trans-Texas Corridor? Not in any real sense... Who knew? Almost no one."

Yeah, we voted on tolls — kinda

October 16, 2006

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

Do you remember voting on the Trans-Texas Corridor?

Me neither. But I think I might have. Sort of.

One of the moderators relayed a question from a McKinney woman asking why Texans haven't gotten to vote on the "Trans-Texas Corridor and related toll highways."

The corridor is Perry's 4,000-mile plan of tollways, railroads and utility lines.

The governor's response was deft.

"First and foremost, the people of Texas had the opportunity to vote on a substantial amount of that in a constitutional amendment," he began, going on to say that the Legislature had debated and passed toll laws in several sessions. The voters, he said, "sent a clear message of how we're going to build infrastructure."

What actually happened is that in a September 2003 election, 810,855 Texans said yes to ballot language that only the most wonkish among them could have known authorized wholesale borrowing for toll roads. The 45 words on the ballot, in fact, do not include the words "toll" or "turnpike."

Here's what Proposition 14 proposed:

"The constitutional amendment providing for authorization of the issuing of notes or the borrowing of money on a short-term basis by a state transportation agency for transportation-related projects, and the issuance of bonds and other public securities secured by the state highway fund."

I was told at the time that the purpose of this was to allow the agency to borrow here and there against future gas-tax revenue to address cash-flow problems. And that, in fact, is what the first part of the language refers to.

But then there's a comma, and some more words. Some technical but powerful words that amounted, apparently, to the electorate saying, "Whoo-eee, slap some toll roads on us, baby!"

Now, Texans did approve another constitutional amendment, this one in 2001, that created the Texas Mobility Fund, and it actually said the money could go to "state highways, turnpikes, toll roads, toll bridges, and other mobility projects." A total of 543,759 Texans said yes to that one.

In 2003, lawmakers dedicated some fees allowing that fund to borrow $4 billion or more.

And as the governor said, that same year the Legislature approved a huge bill allowing the creation of the Trans-Texas Corridor. That bill, passed in a session marked by Democrats fleeing to Ardmore, Okla., and a $10 billion budget gap, got little press coverage.

Did Texans vote on the Trans-Texas Corridor? Not in any real sense.

Did we vote on a "substantial amount" of the toll road revolution? Yes, technically, in a special September 2003 election with predictably poor turnout and all the focus on other amendments, we gave the Texas Department of Transportation carte blanche to borrow for roads and charge tolls.

Who knew? Almost no one.; 445-3698

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman: www.

For more on Perry's stealth proposition in 2003 [CLICK HERE]


Sunday, October 15, 2006

"Most voters say they are willing to put party affiliation aside to focus on what they want to change most about the state of Texas."

War, transportation, illegal immigration frustrate Central Texas voters

October 15, 2006

By Dan Genz and Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2006

If elections matter most when the public is anxious for change, local voters suggest the Nov. 7 election may be pivotal.

Citizens say they care deeply about a variety of burning issues as they prepare to vote in as little as eight days, expressing frustration over America’s two wars, porous southern border, unbalanced budget and a bitter political climate.

Approached at a parade, a fair, two candidate forums, a church and a cafe, Central Texans said they believe many politicians are avoiding tough decisions and dodging pressing issues to focus on what will score them points in newspapers, on TV and over the radio.

And when it comes down to choosing one candidate over another, voters say the issues hitting closest to their family and way of life will guide their decisions.

One woman who works with youth at her church said the basics of the education system — teacher salaries and school safety — hold sway.

The war dominates for a Waco Army officer preparing for a third Iraq tour next month after previous service in Baghdad and Ramadi.

A controversial transportation initiative is a favorite of a young voter whose father commutes to Dallas every day on packed Interstate 35 while also being the public enemy for a rural land owner whose property may be near the path of the proposed new toll road and railroad network.

On issue after issue, most voters say they are willing to put party affiliation aside to focus on what they want to change most about the country or the state of Texas.

Waco Tribune-Herald interviews with about 30 citizens from across town suggest that they are pushing for a government that will more thoroughly engage topics dear to their daily lives and probe deeper for the best answers.

A chief topic among them is an unpopular war in Iraq.

Sgt. Mark Sheets, 23, lives in Waco with his wife of 86 days, and talked about the politics of the war Wednesday night at the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo.

He is preparing to deploy for a third tour in Iraq with Fort Hood’s 1st Cavalry next month.

He wants a clear new vision instead of more bickering over the war he knows well.

“The Democrats say, ‘Bush is stupid, we’ve got to get out of Iraq’ and the Republicans say, ‘The Democrats are stupid, we’ve got to fight,’ ” Sheets said.

A real solution involves something more complicated than withdrawing altogether or staying the current course, he said, calling on the nation’s leaders to put it together.

Mary Nell SoRelle, 81, listed the war as a top priority at a League of Women Voters candidate forum Wednesday afternoon.

She has lived through wars that had a clear purpose the nation could rally behind, but Iraq is not one in her mind.

“I think it’s useless,” said SoRelle, who was raised on a farm in Robinson. “I think the war on terrorism is necessary, . . . but Iraq is not the way to go. No, I don’t feel safer at all.”

For a barber who lives in rural Coolidge, it took a few minutes talking about Iraq to settle on the fearsome threat posed by a North Korea government armed with nuclear weapons as his top issue.

Facing down bad actors is an admirable thing, said Charles Carr, 32, but he can’t shake the feeling the national leadership has been pursuing the wrong ones all along.

“North Korea has got the (nuclear) bomb,” Carr said. “You know they are going to shoot it off, but we may not be able to stop them because all our soldiers, thousands, are over there (in Iraq), doing something else.”

But some see those wanting to leave Iraq behind as too quick to give up on what soldiers have sacrificed so much to build.

Waco businessman and prominent Republican veteran leader Carey Hobbs, 70, said, “I don’t think it is going as well as we would like — it’s a war. We think we know what the enemy is doing, but we don’t know. I wish we were getting better control of the insurgency.”

His daughter is “fixing to go back” to Iraq in a couple weeks with a private security firm. He hopes things improve.

Transit matters

One statewide transportation issue is providing a lot of controversy and is driving voters this election season.

Josh Childers, 21, of Waco, said he is supporting Gov. Rick Perry because he is leading the push to build the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road and railroad network to add capacity to the state’s roads in time for a population boom in the coming decades.

“My dad drives to Dallas every day on I-35, and it would be so much easier if he could just hop on there,” Childers said. “They have to build it. It makes sense.”

But at the same time the project is the very idea of forward thinking for Childers, a McLennan Community College real estate student, it is a nightmare for others.

James Smith, 47, a recreational vehicle repairman living on 20 acres in Downsville, is supporting candidates who will fight the venture.

Knowing that the government would need to take thousands of acres to build the project across Texas and that its path is expected to come through McLennan County east of I-35, possibly in Smith’s small town, he is concerned he could be forced to sell the property.

“Downsville is right in the middle of where they want to build the thing,” he said.

Transportation also is a driving force for Donna Ferguson, 34, a public school fine arts teacher.

While she is voting on education issues such as teacher pay and better conditions for public schools, one of her biggest gripes right now is the fluctuating gas prices that make it difficult to plan vacations.

“We can’t afford to do it at $3 per gallon,” she said, but the inconsistency is alarming. “I just get a kick out of the fact that prices can go from $2.89 to $2.07 in what seems like a few weeks.”

In reality, prices have fallen 78 cents over the last 10 weeks, according to AAA Texas, helping some family’s finances.

But fuel costs still are too high for farmers like Don Richter, 82, of Leroy, who is anxious that farmers are barely making it these days.

Border concerns grow

Another issue many voters see as hitting them in the pocketbook is illegal immigration.

Before a recent parade, Bob Grunska sat on the back of a firetruck with his wife, Lolly, wearing a sticker supporting GOP nominee Van Taylor.

“I am concerned with immigration, with lack of enforcement of the law that allows them to qualify for a lot of things they are not entitled to get,” said Grunska, 83, of Hewitt.

He said the Mexican border is not secure and the federal government has looked the other way as the problem gets worse.

John Gomez, 23, and Ray Arias, 38, agree with Grunska that illegal immigration is a major issue, but to them, it is one tinged with animosity and misplaced anger.

“It’s all messed up with so many points of view,” Gomez said. “They want to talk about the crime, but most immigrants come here to work.”

New multibillion-dollar fences on the U.S.-Mexican border are symbols that could be circumvented with “wire cutters or a good shovel” the Waco-born-and-raised Gomez said. By building immigration as an issue, politicians have hurt Hispanic Americans, he said.

Many of these debates have been raging for years, which has done little to cool their fire.

Anxiety high; values key

Lolly Grunska, 79, is voting on what she calls a “values” basis, citing her opposition to abortion and gay unions.

“A marriage is between one man and one woman,” she said.

Recent developments continue to shake up voters.

Some complained about a recent congressman’s resignation after sending sexually-charged e-mails to teenage former pages, mounting concern of North Korea’s confrontational posturing and the school shootings that continue to hit the daily news, or a frightening small plane crash in New York City.

Though turnout is expected to be low, those who plan to vote appear anxious on many fronts.

Dolores Melendez, 48, who works at a local Baptist church, has just finished putting her children through Baylor University.

Her main concern is education and the future of American school-aged children.

“Teachers should be some of the highest paid people in this nation,” she said. “The beginnings of children’s education can make or break society.”

The list of other issues is long, chief among them national security in a vexing international climate.

When a small plane crashed into a residential high rise last week, the children Melendez works with exhibited an immediate alarm.

“The first thing they said they thought about when they heard about the crash was: terrorists,” she said. “That word is part of our vocabulary now.” 757-5743 757-5751

© 2006 Waco Tribune-Herald: