Web Posted: 03/06/2010
Conservative Texans want more than photo-ops
San Antonio Express-News
When the 2009 regular session of the Texas Legislature concluded, Gov. Rick Perry came to San Antonio to affix his signature to a major property rights measure. In front of the Alamo, Perry appeared to sign legislation putting a constitutional amendment on the November 2009 ballot that sharply restricted the circumstances under which state and local government could exercise eminent domain.
The ceremony presented a great photo-op: a conservative governor affirming an essential right, drawing a line in the sand on eminent domain in the shadow of the Cradle of Texas Liberty. The ceremony was also deceptive.
What Perry purported to sign was a joint resolution passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Texas Legislature. Such measures circumvent the governor’s office and automatically appear on the ballot in the next general election. Voters approved it in November with 81 percent support.
The decision of conservative Texas lawmakers to bypass the governor on eminent domain reform in 2009 was deliberate. Two years earlier, Perry had vetoed an even stronger affirmation of property rights drawn up in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision.
The ostensible explanation for Perry’s 2007 veto was that a key provision would have vastly inflated costs for new road construction. Beneath this explanation lay additional bothersome issues that put him at odds with conservative Texans.
The 2007 eminent domain reform effort conflicted with Perry’s plans — since abandoned — for the Trans Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile multi-modal transportation network that would have necessitated the state’s seizure of as much as 600,000 acres of private property. The project generated even greater controversy because of its heavy reliance on toll roads; because a former Perry staffer worked as a consultant for the Spanish company, Cintra, that won the rights to develop the corridor; and because Perry fought a ruling by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott that compelled the Texas Department of Transportation to lift a veil of secrecy on the contract’s details.
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