"We've been very disappointed with his property rights performance."
By KELLEY SHANNON
Citing concerns about private property rights, the Texas Farm Bureau endorsed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for governor Monday, abandoning Gov. Rick Perry.
The farm bureau endorsed Perry in his previous two runs for governor, but has been at odds with the Republican incumbent over what the bureau says is his lack of action in curbing abuses of eminent domain and protecting private property rights. Farmers have vocally opposed Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor toll road network that threatens to take farm and ranch land.
"Sen. Hutchison has been a leader in the U.S. Senate on agriculture and property rights issues," said Kenneth Dierschke, president of the Texas Farm Bureau. "For the future of Texas, we call for new leadership, new ideas and a new vision."
He also praised Hutchison for supporting the elimination of the estate tax and the deductibility of the state sales tax on federal income tax returns.
Perry's spokesman, Mark Miner, dismissed the farm bureau endorsement as "political payback" for Hutchison because the bureau operates an insurance business and Hutchison voted for the bailout a year ago of the financial and insurance industry.
"I think it's a major reason" for the endorsement, Miner said. "It's very clear the governor has been a strong advocate for property rights."
Farm bureau spokesman Gene Hall said the bureau's affiliated companies offer insurance, "but those companies have not received one dime in bailout money."
Miner is demonstrating "an astonishing lack of understanding of what the Texas Farm Bureau is," Hall said, noting that when Perry received farm bureau endorsements, he welcomed them.
Miner later said he was not suggesting the farm bureau benefited financially but just pointing out it had supported the bailout. The group said in October 2008 it supported the federal bill because it would bring stability to the financial markets and some of its provisions would help farmers and ranchers.
"We're not surprised that an insurance company who supported the bailout would endorse somebody who voted for it," said Miner, who has criticized Hutchison for voting for the bill. She opposed later federal stimulus spending bills.
Hutchison campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Baker wouldn't comment on Miner's bailout remark, other than to say Perry is "out of touch and arrogant" and he advocates "abusive" eminent domain policies.
Hutchison and Perry are squaring off in a rough and expensive Republican primary in March. Both candidates have been trying to make the property rights issue their own.
With the Texas Farm Bureau endorsement, Hutchison gets the backing of a group that has 421,000 members and offices and activists in more than 200 counties.
Perry has been rolling out a long list of endorsements of his own, including the Texas Association of Realtors and the Texas Chemical Council, two major trade industry groups. He's also backed by social conservative groups, such as Texas Right to Life.
Hutchison has long criticized the Trans-Texas Corridor and says she opposes toll roads unless local officials and voters agree to them. In her official campaign launch in August, she called Perry's corridor proposal the biggest land grab in Texas history.
"There is nothing about it that's right," Hutchison said Monday. "I will end the Trans-Texas Corridor and the strategy of tolling every highway in Texas."
Perry proposed the $175 billion network of toll roads and high-speed rail in 2002. It ran into opposition, particularly in rural areas, for the private land it would take and because of secrecy surrounding a contract the state agreed to with a Spanish company. Perry's transportation officials have since scaled back the plan considerably and ditched the name Trans-Texas Corridor. But two large segments of the proposal are still in the planning stages.
The farm bureau said its endorsement of Hutchison came down to its trust in her. Hall noted Perry vetoed a 2007 bill backed by the farm bureau that addressed eminent domain and said he didn't provide the leadership the bureau was looking for in this year's session and special session.
"We've been very disappointed with his property rights performance," Hall said.
Perry, meanwhile, supports a proposed constitutional amendment on the November election ballot that he says will protect landowners from eminent domain abuses. He even went to the Alamo to ceremonially sign the proposal, which would prohibit government officials from taking property and giving it to a private developer to boost the tax base.
"The governor is going to be vigorously campaigning for passage of the constitutional amendment," Miner said.
© 2009 Dallas Morning News: www.dallasnews.com
To search TTC News Archives click
To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click