Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gov. Rick Perry, eminent domain and the Alamo : A Show About Nothing

Impressive show: Ailing Perry signs resolution at Alamo.

Oh, it was nothing

Davy Crockoshit


Ken Herman
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2009

THE ALAMO – Who amongst us does not enjoy political theater?

Like when a president goes to a food kitchen. Or a senator shows up at a school. It's all about stagecraft, from the floor marks showing who stands where, to who gets to say what when. Nothing left to chance. Political theater is no place for improv.

The only thing better than political theater is the subcategory of political theater/fiction. This would be when a politician performs in a little show that is fully make-believe.

Your governor offered a fine such performance Monday.

A real trouper, Gov. Rick Perry showed up at the Alamo, right arm in sling from a recent bike wreck, and used his left hand to sign House Joint Resolution 14, a proposed constitutional amendment concerning eminent domain.

Quite a performance, complete with stirring words about how the Alamo heroes fought and died for concepts like private property.

"You see," your governor said, "land ownership has been essential to the Texas culture for a long time."

It's hard to beat the Alamo for a backdrop — though it does invite a snide line or two about defeat. But we will skip that low-hanging comedy fruit and comment only on the ceremony.

Beautiful. Perfect. Inspiring. And as phony as they come.

Here's why: Texas governors have nothing to do with proposed constitutional amendments. When a proposed amendment gets the necessary two-thirds vote in each chamber — as HJR 14 did this year — it goes to the secretary of state, who puts it on the statewide ballot. Unlike proposed laws, proposed constitutional amendments are not routed through the governor's office.

No vetoes allowed. No signature required. No signing ceremony needed.

The legislative Web site lists the 84 actions it took to get HJR 14 approved. The word "governor" never appears.

But he did Monday, declaring his unswerving support and signing something that did not need his wrong-handed autograph.

All theater needs motive. And there's plenty here. It's all about re-establishing Perry as a private property-rights kind of guy, a credential he covets as he heads toward a 2010 renomination battle against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

HJR 14, set for the November ballot, would strengthen a 2005 state law barring government taking of private land for private use. That bill was sparked by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing governments to take land from one owner and give it to another for economic development purposes.

Exactly two years ago Monday, Perry invited questions about his dedication to private property rights by vetoing a bill dealing with the concept of "diminished access." Texas law allows compensation for landowners if condemnation proceedings substantially decrease a property's values. The vetoed 2007 bill would have allowed compensation for "any diminished access."

At the time, Perry said he vetoed the bill because it could produce unreasonably large payments to landowners who suffered limited reduction of value. Maybe, but the veto did not sit well with some, including the Texas Farm Bureau, holder of a potentially pivotal endorsement in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary.

The 2007 veto came on the heels of Perry's ill-fated Trans-Texas Corridor highway project, one that also attracted the ire of folks who fear government taking of private property.

Trans Texas Corridor Land Grab

And that's why your governor was at the Alamo to affix his superfluous southpaw signature to HJR 14.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, stood with Perry on Monday. After the "signing" ceremony, the 21-year legislative veteran could not immediately recall previously attending a ceremony where a governor signed something a governor has no business signing.

Nothing wrong with it, said Wentworth, noting the value of calling attention to an important issue.

And potential political benefit for Perry in a GOP primary?

"I think this would help him in that respect, yeah," Wentworth said.

When I was growing up on the mean streets of Flatbush, the wise elders among my people had a word for the kind of thing that happened Monday at the Alamo:

"Mishegoss," they would say with a dismissive facial expression.

That's mish-i-goss.

Google it. You will use it for years to come as you enjoy political theater.; 445-3907

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