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The Webster Retort
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
By Stephen C. Webster, Austin Bureau Chief
Grassroots Group Tripping Up ‘North American Union’Interview With Terri Hall,
Founder Of Texans Uniting For Reform And Freedom
AUSTIN, Texas — In the United States today, and particularly in Texas, the average citizen feels powerless. If they vote, there is reasonable questions as to whether the ballots were properly counted. If they protest, nothing changes except their chances of getting skin cancer. If they petition their government, they receive pre-written form letters back from their representatives encouraging them to sit down, shut up and stay in line. Basically.
So, what happens when one average citizen — in this case, a homeschooling wife and mother of (soon to be) seven children from San Antonio — goes off the activist’s deep end? Can one person really make a difference?
Terri Hall is proof positive that the God-given, American rights to free speech, a free press and free assembly are still the most powerful weapons in the world when properly employed. In 2007, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, or TURF for short, officially convened its first meeting and set about planning a taxpayer revolt against the political class in Austin.
TURF’s unity cause: Gov. Rick Perry’s controversial plans for a privatized, tolled highway infrastructure best known as the Trans-Texas Corridor. But it has gradually expanded since then, as Hall and her associates uncovered more and more about the North American SuperCorridor Coalition and what she says are plans to control Americans’ right to travel and enhance the North American transportation infrastructure to such a degree that the United States, Canada and Mexico are indistinguishable from one another; in essence, one country and one economy, the North American Union
So far, the group has been wildly successful at bringing together activists of all stripes under one umbrella. With the help of Hank Gilbert, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for Texas agriculture commissioner in 2006, Hall’s group has aligned 9/11 Truth’ers with Bush Republicans, immigration reform advocates with old-school peace’nics, farmers with city folk, radical leftists with fringe right extremists, and so many others. But her mission will not be complete until the Trans-Texas Corridor, and plans for a North American Union, is no longer on the books.
Recently, The Lone Star Iconoclast had an opportunity to speak at length with Mrs. Hall about her crusade. That interview follows.
ICONOCLAST: TURF is, by many accounts, a very quickly growing, extremely effective protest group, with its core focus on stopping the construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor. What lit your fuse? How did you first get involved in this issue?
TERRI HALL: It all started when I attended a TxDOT hearing around the corner from my house. That’s when I first heard they were going to convert an existing freeway — U.S. 281 — into a toll road. It made no sense to me. I saw it as a tax grab, because that’s precisely what it is. It made no sense to start tolling a road when it is already bought and paid for.
Of course, their excuse was that they were making improvements to it and that sort of thing. But there were some things said at that hearing that really put up some red flags for me. There was a gentleman who was trying to question TxDOT as to the format of the meeting. And they’re usually scripted. They don’t answer questions, they just take public comments at the mic, and they have to answer those questions, usually in some kind of public paper.
So, they run their responses as public announcements in a newspaper well after the hearing, and there’s no Q&A. There is no public dialog between TxDOT and the people. They do a scripted thing because they have to hold the same and identical meeting at every stop.
Anyway, this gentleman got up and was questioning this woman with TxDOT and saying, “Hey, these roads are already paid for. We passed laws on the ballot back in 2001, and we were told this thing was paid for, either by foreign money or gas taxes.” Of course, they wouldn’t answer his questions.
So, I ended up holding a meeting with the district engineer for the San Antonio region and started asking those questions. But, they were mum on those details. So through a supporter, I got a hold of the original documents from TxDOT. That’s when we found out, for sure, that shows yes, in fact, the money has been funded and has been there to fix 281 where needed; to make improvements to that road with gas tax money. But they put the whole thing on hold in 2003, simply because they want the money.
Once we found out how egregious this was, I knew it would take organizing people. All I had to do was tap into that anger that was in the room that night, at that meeting. I knew there were hoards of other citizens that felt the way I did, and my family did. The more I talked to my state senator, state rep, legislators and everybody, I knew they were going to blow off any kind of public opposition, especially if its just one person. But, if we organized, we would have a better shot at getting them to listen.
That’s when we started forming this group. We’ve been at it since March of 2005. Our first real, official meeting was in June of 2005, and it started as an offshoot of the Texas Toll Party in Austin. We were the San Antonio Toll Party, and we kinda ran our own local thing, trying to kill the projects here. Then I realized what TURF was supposed to be from the beginning: Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.
The idea behind it was to have some kind of large, umbrella group that would help bring in some of these other groups from around the state so that we could really be a force to be reckoned with in the legislature so that we could get something passed that would put a stop to this stuff. And that means, not just the urban tolls, but the Trans-Texas Corridor as well.
San Antonio is unique in that we are not just getting the urban toll road assault, at the eastern edge of Bexar County is also the Trans-Texas Corridor 35 project. We’re one region that will be affected by both, and Houston has joined that because around the west side of Houston, the grand parkway is going to connect up to TTC-69, and of course through the Victoria area, and Waller and Wharton. TTC-69 is going to come through there. And while it doesn’t touch Harris County, it is becoming a hot issue in those urban areas, as well as rural.
ICONOCLAST: TURF’s most recent action in Austin, which the Iconoclast covered in its April 9, 2008 edition, exhibited this umbrella nature of your group. There were 9/11 Truth activists standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Bush Republicans, and Ron Paul revolutionaries holding casual conversation with Obama-maniacs. You might call it a rainbow coalition, but these groups would otherwise never be caught associating with each other.
HALL: [laughs] Isn’t that interesting? But that’s right! We’ve got people from the left, right, and everywhere in-between. We’ve got groups like the Eagle Forum working with unions! And environmental groups working with anti-tax advocates. There’s a whole host of people interested in this issue. I think what it really comes down to is our government trying to take away our freedom to travel. And certainly trying to exert a massive amount of control over our freedom to travel, whether it’s urban or rural, we’re all uniting under the same umbrella for the same reason.
Eminent domain abuse in one part of the state is eminent domain abuse everywhere else. We all know that when we open the can of worms in one place, it will be opened elsewhere, and it will spread like a canker, like every bad idea in government tends to do. It has really brought people together of all political stripes and walks of life; people who would never work together, or even speak to each other, are fighting for a single cause: to preserve our freedom to travel and hopefully put a stop to this abusive, overbearing government that we’re seeing.
I’m a wife and homeschooling mother of six kids, and expecting a seventh. So, I have lots on my plate at home, and I certainly have better things to be doing with my time than be a watchdog on government, but this has really become a personal struggle for me, because we can see the expansive impact these policies have, not just on us, but future generations. They are literally taking out a second mortgage on our transportation system and putting our infrastructure under the control of foreign companies. Then they’re asking our kids and grandkids to pay this back, just to pave over Texas with an unneeded road. It is unbelievable.
Now, I wouldn’t argue that there isn’t congestion in some of our urban areas that needs to be addressed. But taking 580,000 acres of private Texas farm land and turning it over to a foreign company to toll us for the rest of our lifetimes. That is not the solution.
ICONOCLAST: Since starting TURF and moving beyond the Texas Toll Party, you have discovered a number of startling things about TxDOT. TURF also has a number of ongoing lawsuits against TxDOT. What have you discovered, and what is the status of those suits?
HALL: We have three lawsuits pending right now; two in federal court and one in state court. The first one was to stop TxDOT from spending any more of our taxpayer money on a propaganda campaign to promote toll roads. They called it the “Keep Texas Moving” campaign. Coupled with that, there are also other allegations in the lawsuit related to the illegal lobbying they’ve been doing. And we called them on it before, hiring outside lobbyists to talk to the legislature. Well, they stopped doing that, but now they are hiring inside lobbyists. The law on this is very clear: they are absolutely not supposed to lobby with taxpayer money, but they’re doing it anyway, in spite of our lawsuits.
Both the House and Senate have called for interim investigations into TxDOT’s use of our money in this way, but they seem tone-deaf, even with these investigations and our lawsuits. We’ve even found evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and we filed complaints with the district attorney’s office and handed over all our documents, everything included in the suit, and yet there is still no grand jury. There are still no full investigation of TxDOT.
Short of our lawsuits, I’m not sure anyone in government would even care what is happening at TxDOT, but with the help of the media, we are shining a light on something that is very wrong. It is a horrible misuse of taxpayer money, and we will continue to shine light on it until the taxpayers get justice and relief. What all this boils down to is a global political elite that wants to stuff their coffers with more and more tax money every year.
ICONOCLAST: Now that you mention it, at the TURF event in Austin there was a lot of talk about the alleged plans for a North American Union and NAFTA superhighway network, with the Trans-Texas Corridor being the southern leg of that project. Is that something you believe to be an impending reality?
HALL: Absolutely. Our mission statement on the Internet ties the Trans-Texas Corridor to the NAFTA superhighway. There is a group called the North American SuperCorridor Coalition, NASCO. They published a map on the Internet many years ago showing a highway network spanning from Canada to Mexico. Since our group and others have formed to oppose this, they’ve taken it down. It shows this massive network of trade corridors they’re forming into a system of superhighways across North America.
[Author’s note: At the NASCO Web site, a document entitled “NASCO – MYTH vs. FACT” goes to great length to distance NASCO from the Trans-Texas Corridor, claiming: “The Trans-Texas Corridor is an initiative launched by Texas Governor Rick Perry and developed by the Texas Department of Transportation to attempt to solve the critical, long-range transportation problems projected for the State of Texas over the next 20 to 30 years. NASCO supports the TTC-35 section (parallel to Interstate 35) of the proposed TTC System because it is directly related to, and will benefit, the existing I-35, NASCO Corridor. We have no authority over this initiative and know of no plans to extend it to other states. Any decision to expand the TTC beyond the State of Texas would be made by that state’s Department of Transportation.”
NASCO also takes pains to disavow any conspiracy as to the placement and removal of its trade corridors map, stating the image was originally intended for marketing purposes only. The group also disavows any support for or discussions of a North American Union.]
ICONOCLAST: So, when the television political pundits accuse activists and others in the world of politics of being conspiracy theorists for believing these free trade corridors and superhighways is the foundation for a union between Canada, the United States and Mexico, they are being disingenuous in your eyes?
HALL: Absolutely. I point to the documentation from Congress. Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation have labeled them different things. We call it the NAFTA superhighway because we know it is about NAFTA-enabled trade. But, for instance, I-59 is known as corridor 18 and 20 by Congress. The USDoT put out a press release last fall that actually designated not just I-69 but other corridors — I-5 throughout California and Interstate 70 and some other roads — to become privatized, tolled trade corridors. So, the DoT and the Federal Highway administration and groups like NASCO are all over this.
They want these corridor routes. They’ve already designated them, some of them decades ago, and one way or another, they don’t care what the people want. They’re going to get their policies rammed through. One of they ways they can do it is to discredit the opposition by saying we’re a bunch of conspiracy nuts.
Even they call them things like “Corridors of the Future” and “Priority Corridors.” This is about international trade. In fact we had TxDOT panelists admitting at the I-69 public hearing that we have a huge influx of foreign trade coming in through Texas into the rest of the country, and we have to make way for all these goods. I mean, they admitted the Trans-Texas Corridor and these other corridors are all about trade, freight, and shipping goods internationally.
But we can stop this tide if we kill the toll roads here in Texas. I absolutely believe that.
ICONOCLAST: What can the average person do to help your cause?
HALL: Go to our Web site, sign up for our e-mail list, and when we put out the call to organize for an event, do so! Get your friends, family, neighbors, or whoever. This will affect everyone, including those who aren’t even born yet. We need people to join our taxpayer revolt and do whatever they can to grow our movement.
ICONOCLAST: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.