Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Texas Farm Bureau on non-endorsement of Rick Perry: "Damned if we do. Damned if we don't"

Endorsement of Hutchison could be costly


Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2009

AUSTIN — The Texas Farm Bureau bucked the trend of lobby groups lining up behind Gov. Rick Perry on Monday as it endorsed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for governor. But the Farm Bureau also may have exposed itself to political payback.

Just ask Kimble D. Ross.

Ross was the registered lobbyist for the Texas Medical Association for 16 years. But he offended the governor in 2002 by persuading his organization to endorse Democrat Tony Sanchez after Perry vetoed a bill to require insurance companies to promptly pay doctors for services — legislation that had passed almost without dissent.

Lobbyist resigned

After Perry won, his aides made clear to the medical association that its agenda stood little chance if Ross remained as its lobbyist. Ross resigned and now works for medical groups in other states.

“It's beyond straight-up political punishment,” Ross said recently. “It gets to a level of once you are out, you're out.”

The scenario played again recently when Perry aides sought the resignation of Texas Tech regents he had appointed but who had thrown their support to Hutchison in the Republican gubernatorial primary fight.

The Farm Bureau gave a lukewarm endorsement to Perry in his 2006 re-election campaign, saying he generally had been good for agriculture, but the group was upset with his support of the Trans-Texas Corridor highway proposal that would have taken thousands of acres of farmland. The split with the group widened in 2007 when Perry vetoed eminent domain legislation to limit the taking of private property.

‘We will have to pay'

Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke said Perry had promised the bureau the eminent domain bill would pass and then vetoed it.

“We expect, if Rick wins, we will have to pay. But we are paying as we go forward now. We've endorsed him in the last two elections, and we haven't seen any positive movement from Rick,” Dierschke said.

Dierschke said the Farm Bureau has supported Hutchison since she won her first statewide race as treasurer in 1990, the same year it supported Perry in his first victory as agriculture commissioner. He said Hutchison is a politician farmers can trust.

Hutchison, in appearances with Dierschke, attacked Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor proposal and promised to kill it if elected. Transportation officials have halted specific projects, but Perry continues to support the concept.

The Farm Bureau has more than 420,000 members and offices across rural Texas. The bureau represents farmers before the Legislature, but also sells insurance for members.

It is not the first time the bureau has broken with Perry. The bureau backed Democrat John Sharp over Perry in the 1998 lieu- tenant governor's race, citing Perry's support for home equity lending legislation. Perry supporters in the bureau wrote letters to other members questioning the leadership's position.
‘Friendly incumbent'

But Perry has been lining up numerous lobby groups and trade associations to back his re-election, ranging from the Texas Association of Realtors to the Texas Chemical Council, which represents refineries along the Gulf Coast.

Hector Rivero, president of the Texas Chemical Council, said Perry has been good at developing a business climate in Texas. He called Perry a “friendly incumbent” and Hutchison a “great senator,” but said the council's endorsement is based on Perry's record.

“This wasn't about picking favorites, but honoring and respecting a leader who has been friendly to business,” Rivero said.


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