Tuesday, January 26, 2010

TTC contractor Zachry hedges bets in Republican Primary race

Kay Bailey Hutchison accepts campaign cash from toll-road builder


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2010

AUSTIN – Kay Bailey Hutchison has railed against the Trans-Texas Corridor, but she counts one of the state’s premiere toll-road builders among her major financial contributors.

Bartell Zachry, whose San Antonio-based construction company partnered with the Spanish company Cintra to develop the multi-billion transportation project, gave Hutchison $25,000, according to a campaign finance report filed with the state.

Hutchison campaign spokeswoman Jen Baker said the senator was happy to accept money from the toll-road builder, even though she has denounced the Trans-Texas Corridor as a land grab and has pledged to curb toll-road construction if she's elected governor.

"Clearly, Zachry agrees with 60 percent of primary voters that don't have any interest in four more years of Rick Perry," said Baker, referring to Perry's 39 percent share of the vote when he won re-election in 2006 in a four-way race.

Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner said Hutchison is being hypocritical.

"The senator criticizes the project, yet she has no hesitation taking money from the company building the project," Miner said.

Zachry has been one of Perry's major benefactors over the years, delivering more than $200,000 from officers and the company's political committee since Perry became governor in 2000.

A company spokeswoman said the construction executive has long supported both Hutchison and Perry in their separate races but had to choose between them in the GOP primary.

"Bartell has supported Sen. Hutchison since she first ran for the U.S. Senate," said Zachry Group spokeswoman Vicky Waddy. "He has a history of supporting her that probably as long as his history of supporting Gov. Perry. And he had a tough decision to make."

The Trans-Texas Corridor – which envisioned a network of highways, railroads and pipelines criss-crossing Texas -- was a major Perry initiative. But it faced strong public opposition and has been declared dead by state transportation officials.

In a campaign commercial, Hutchison warns voters that the only way to make sure the corridor is dead is to elect her governor. She would push the Legislature to revoke authority for development of the project. But in her larger transportation plans, Hutchison does not call for the elimination of new toll-road projects.

Such projects continue to be developed in several parts of the state, and Zachry remains involved in those projects.

Baker of the Hutchison campaign said the candidate remains committed to de-emphasizing toll roads.

"When she's elected, the days of the toll-road-only mentality and land grabs that give foreign companies the land so they can build toll roads and tax Texans is over," she said.

Zachry's two sons, John and David, head different parts of the family business. David contributed $10,000 to Perry, while John gave the same amount to Hutchison.

"It's really pretty rare for us to split," Waddy said. "But David believed that Gov. Perry has worked with him during the legislative sessions, and he believes that Gov. Perry should be able to continue to work he has started as governor of Texas."

Asked whether Bartell Zachry's support for Hutchison was in his own business interest, Waddy said the state will continue to need highways and the company can do it however the state chooses to build them.

"Whether they are built as toll roads, as free roads, as managed lanes, we are able to build them. So it may impact our business in that these projects don't happen as quickly as certainly the driving public would like. But regardless of the delivery method for the projects, we can still build them," she said.

She noted that others in the company have divided loyalties in the race.

General Counsel Murray Johnson has given $2,000 to Hutchison. And Vice President Cathy Obriotti Green is a statewide coordinator with the Hutchison campaign. Waddy has given $1,000 to Perry.

"There are longstanding personal relationships in play and everybody's doing what they think is the right thing to do," Waddy said. "And we hope whoever is elected, we'll be able to work with them."

© 2010 Dallas Morning News: www.dallasnews.com

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