Harold Simmons vs. ‘No Bonds for Billionaires’

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Never let it be said that the good people of Andrews, Texas aren’t charitable. They’re so willing to lend a helping hand to those who ask that they voted in May to authorize the issuance of $75 million in bonds to help Harold Simmons, one of the world’s 200 richest men, build a massive radioactive waste dump near their town.

To be fair, the election was really close: 642 to 639. So close that the founders of “No Bonds for Billionaires,” sisters Melodye and Peggy Pryor, lawyered up and sued the county, arguing in the suit that at least 90 voters illegally cast ballots in the election.

I’ve read their lawsuit and the responses from the county and Waste Control Specialists. Here’s my take, ripped from the latest issue of the Observer.

The suit contends there was a raft of irregularities, including at least three unregistered voters; voters using someone else’s voter ID number; people born in other countries who didn’t affirm their U.S. citizenship on voter-registration applications; and mismatches between signatures on polling place sign-in sheets and voter-registration cards.

Attorneys for Waste Control Specialists—third-party interveners in the suit—trashed it in a response filed with the court. “Based on nothing but speculation and questions,” the response reads, “contestants would have the Court reject ninety votes and deprive these individuals of their fundamental right to vote.”

The county’s response appears to undermine the allegations, documenting that many of the voters in question are longtime Andrews residents and voters. Many of the allegations of illegal voting stem from minor mistakes on voter applications, the county says. The four “illegal” voters were in fact registered, according to the secretary of state’s database.

At this point, I’d put my money on Andrews County and Waste Control. Invalidating elections ain’t the easiest thing in the world and I’m not sure the Pryors and their attorney have the goods.

In any case, I still marvel at how a billionaire and his proxies could talk a relatively poor community, which prides itself on “Free Enterprise,” into financing a risky private radioactive waste venture. But, I’ve been writing about the Andrews radwaste dump long enough that I shouldn’t be surprised by anything.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.