Po­lit­i­cal trac­tor pull: Ag en­dorse­ment could be up for grabs

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION - KEN HER­MAN kher­man@states­man.com; 445-3907

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 states­man.

com/opin­ion.

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?

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