HOUSTON OF ALL PLACES IS SHOWING ITS LACK OF PRIORITIES IN SNAGGING $350 MILLION IN GAS TAXES TO SUBSIDIZE A TOLL ROAD.
By Terri Hall l June 1, 2012
In an amazing feat of sheer determination bolstered by a whole lot of charisma and grassroots enthusiasm, Texas Senate District 25 candidate Donna Campbell pulled off an upset for the record books by defeating an entrenched career politician who spent $2.5 million, Elizabeth Ames-Jones, which catapulted her into a run-off poised to unseat State Senator Jeff Wentworth, another entrenched career politician, who spent $1.5 million.
Despite coming up against mountains of money, high name recognition, and powerful connections backing her opponents, Campbell achieved a stunning come from behind finish to garner 33% of the vote to Wentworth’s 35%, forcing the 19-year incumbent into an unexpected run-off. Campbell was outspent 25:1.
“I’m excited about the momentum that brought us to our strong finish. It’s people not dollars that drove our campaign. We surged with our positive campaign and stuck to the issues that are important to Texans,” says an ebullient Campbell. “We’re almost there.”
A host of contrasts are apparent between these two finishers. Wentworth’s record on conservative issues is less than stellar. He’s pro-choice, advocated for both new taxes and tax hikes, including toll roads, and public-private partnerships (P3s), while he has voted to expand government, debt, and spending.
Tolls are an issue in the race
In fact, Wentworth authored a bill, SB 942, in the 2007 80th legislative session that could have given the authority to impose a ‘congestion toll’ on our roads (where the toll varies based on the level of traffic, drivers pay more, the more congested a road becomes) a charge by mile toll, an increase in both the gas tax and the vehicle registration fees, as well as to impose a ‘commuter tax’ on residents outside the county who commute into Bexar County.
One of THE primary reasons concerned citizens have never been able to stop tolls on US Highway 281/ Loop 1604 Interchange and other local freeways in the Texas Legislature or at the local transportation policy board called the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is due to Jeff Wentworth – he is singularly responsible for these tolls.
Good bills would pass the House only to have Wentworth put up a roadblock on the Senate Transportation Committee. He’s voted for every toll road bill that crossed his desk. Wentworth even worked for the same law firm that represented Zachry when Cintra-Zachry put an unsolicited bid on TxDOT’s desk to takeover US Highway 281 & the Loop 1604 Interchange. Wentworth blocked efforts to get that contract under the private toll road moratorium bill in 2007, and later reversed himself after his connection to Zachry’s law firm became public knowledge.
According to the Cintra/Zachry Team Fact Sheet, the Madrid, Spain headquartered Cintra and the San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Company were “selected by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to develop the first phase of the Trans-Texas Corridor,” the controversial feeder routes across the Mexico-Texas border for advancing the NAFTA Superhighway Trade Corridor and Toll Road System.
It was Wentworth who led the charge to ensure US Highway 281 and the Loop 1604 Interchange remained as toll projects in October 2009 at an MPO meeting at Alzafar Shrine that had record-breaking attendance, 800 people standing room only. He bragged about having the ‘spine’ to stand up to constituents and vote to toll despite citizens testifying against tolls 95 to 5.
Recognizing that tolling is a hot issue, Campbell put up a billboard in Stone Oak along 281 that read: “Freeways not tollways.” She’s for elected leadership at TxDOT, a full audit of the agency responsible for a $1.1 billion accounting error, and ending diversions of road taxes for non-road purposes that deplete the state highway trust fund, thereby justifying the argument in favor of tolling – it’s a vicious circle that once started doesn’t end.
One thing about Campbell that appeals to Texas voters is the fact she’s outside the political establishment. Anyone who has spent even five minutes with Campbell knows she exudes enthusiasm and inspires people with her message of smaller government, taming out of control spending, and fighting to protect our freedoms. Supporters have called her “spunky,” “spitfire,” and “just what we need in Austin – someone who’ll fight for us, not against us.”
Healthcare at the fore
Another issue Campbell, an emergency room physician, cares deeply about is healthcare. When contemplating who’s best equipped to deal with healthcare she queries: “You gotta ask yourself, who do want addressing healthcare issues? Career politicians or an actual physician?”
Campbell, who advocates the repeal of Obamacare, declared, “We need to get government out of our way. Instead of being a head wind, it needs to be a tailwind. Sad that I need to get a government job to get the government out of my job.”
She’s a fighter who has shed the notion that minimal funding means a grassroots candidate can’t win. Campbell is sure to make an indelible footprint on Texas government…now Texans need to get her there!
Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of eight turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to