Wednesday, July 07, 2010

"There's no law preventing governors from holding phony signing ceremonies..."

Political tractor pull: Ag endorsement could be up for grabs in Texas gubernatorial race


Ken Herman
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2010

We delve today into a curious subplot in a curious Texas gubernatorial race (i.e., one in which Dems might have an actual chance of winning).

GOP Gov. Rick Perry, a rancher before he got into government work at an early age, and Democratic challenger Bill White, a city boy whose saddle time has been accumulated on a bike, will participate in a jointish appearance today at a Texas Farm Bureau conference in San Marcos. Their speeches are separated by lunch and come right after Wizzie Brown discusses fire ant control.

At stake, though it won't happen today, is the endorsement of the agricultural group that claims to represent more than 400,000 rural Texans. The endorsement comes through Texas AgFund, the bureau's political wing.

This will be the sixth gubernatorial election in which AgFund has endorsed. So far, it's five for five, backing the GOP nominee every time (loser Clayton Williams in 1990 and winners George W. Bush in 1994 and 1998 and Perry in 2002 and 2006).

So, you might think, easy call here for the ag crowd: Perry the ex-rancher Republican from rural Paint Creek over White the lawyer, energy businessman and ex-Houston mayor Democrat who does not exude farm boy. Nope, not that easy. The Farm Bureau backed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in her ill-fated bid against Perry in this year's GOP gubernatorial primary. After endorsing Perry in four of his five statewide races, the Farm Bureau (which backed Democrat John Sharp in the 1998 lite governor race won by Perry) looked elsewhere this year due largely to Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor project, an ambitious, aborted highway-building effort. Ag interests feared the project would include aggressive use of the state's eminent domain power, which they viewed as a threat to their land.

In 2007, Perry, a former two-term state ag commissioner, vetoed an eminent domain reform bill backed by the Farm Bureau. During this year's campaign, Hutchison promised to make the topic an emergency item in the 2011 Legislature. It remains the Farm Bureau's priority issue for next year's legislative session.

Last year, Perry, in a political rehab effort, backed a proposed constitutional amendment — on last November's ballot as Proposition 11 — barring government from taking private land for private economic development. Voters overwhelmingly approved it.
In a fine bit of political grandstanding, Perry went to the Alamo to sign the proposed amendment last June. It was an inspiring ceremony filled with Perry rhetoric about the importance of private property.

But the whole thing was a phony deal.

In Texas, governors don't sign, nor can they veto, proposed constitutional amendments approved by lawmakers. Such proposals go directly to the ballot for voter review.

But there's no law preventing governors from holding phony signing ceremonies at major state landmarks. To remember the Alamo event, see my video at

Perry's support for the amendment didn't sway the Farm Bureau.

"We all know that while Prop 11 was important in preventing property from being taken for private use, it does not address the needed reforms Governor Perry vetoed pertaining to good-faith offers, fair market value and compensation for diminished access," the bureau said in kicking off its efforts to defeat Perry in the GOP primary.

Further complicating Perry's bid for Farm Bureau backing could be his campaign spokesman Mark Miner's assertion that the Hutchison endorsement was "political payback" for her support for the government bailout of financial and insurance industry interests. Miner, noting the Farm Bureau's insurance operation, said, "We're not surprised that an insurance company who supported the bailout would endorse somebody who voted for it."

Despite that, Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall assured me a Perry endorsement is possible.

"I've been instructed to repeat we have three possible positions. We could endorse either or remain neutral," Hall said.

"It's always, up till now, been a Republican. That, however, doesn't mean anything," he said.

White's banking on that. He's been making personal pitches to Farm Bureau leaders.

"I oppose use of eminent domain to benefit private companies and ill-conceived land grabs such as the Trans-Texas Corridor," he said in a personally signed letter to those folks in advance of today's conference.

Will the Farm Bureau endorsement swing the election? Unlikely. But the battle for it is another reminder that this gubernatorial contest offers some things out of the ordinary.

In endorsing Hutchison, Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke said, "For the future of Texas, we call for new leadership. We call for new ideas and a new vision."

Doesn't sound like a guy looking for a governor who's been in office since December 2000, does it?; 445-3907

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