It’s said that there are only seven basic plot structures in life and literature. With state government under Rick Perry, there often seems to be just one: A crony gives him money; crony meets opposition from something called The Public; crony gets what he wants. The stories vary in the details but you basically find the same plot structure repeated over and over. The Statesman‘s R.G. Ratcliffe uncovered a particularly pure, new version of this old tale. You can decide whether the story is tragedy, comedy or maybe a hybrid — tragi-comedy.
State environmental regulators appointed by Gov. Rick Perry issued a permit in January for a Houston-area industrial waste injection well to a company whose top investors include some of Perry’s close friends and campaign contributors.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the permit over the objections of the Texas Railroad Commission and every state and local official representing Montgomery County, and in spite of an administrative law judge’s recommendation to deny the permit because the well might pollute groundwater.
“These guys are used to getting what they want — you want a project to go through, you donate,” said Rebecca Kaiser, a Conroe-area homeowner opposed to the project. “It’s scary to think that this is going to end up doing something to our drinking water.”
Perry’s presidential campaign opponents have criticized him for “crony capitalism,” the appearance of a pay-to-play culture that gets favorable state government treatment for his campaign donors. Perry also has been criticized for state environmental regulation that appears to put business ahead of environmental quality and safety.
All those issues are raised in the environmental commission’s actions on the permit sought by TexCom Inc. of Houston and its investors with close ties to Perry.
Major investors in the injection well include Texas A&M University System Regent Phil Adams and Barry Switzer, a former football coach for the University of Oklahoma and the Dallas Cowboys.
Adams is a friend of Perry’s from their days as students at A&M. He has donated almost $300,000 to Perry’s state campaign fund, and at one time or another he has employed both of Perry’s children in his Bryan insurance agency. Another Adams investment became controversial in Perry’s gubernatorial re-election campaign last year when it was revealed that the company received a $2.75 million grant from the state’s Emerging Technology Fund.
Switzer raised more than $57,000 for Perry’s 2010 re-election and attended Perry’s primary election victory party. This August, Switzer hosted a fundraiser for Perry’s presidential campaign that took in $273,500.
Adams and Switzer are investors in a subsidiary of TexCom Inc. The company fought for five years to obtain the permit for a Montgomery County site for an injection well for industrial waste, mostly generated by the oil and gas industry. TexCom has reported that the site has the potential to generate $20 million a year in revenue.
The closest parallel is Harold Simmos’ radioactive waste dump deal. In that instance, Dallas billionaire and major Perry donor, Harold Simmons pumped beaucoup cash into the governor and the Legislature. In return, the Lege privatized radioactive waste disposal in 2003 for Simmons’ company, Waste Control Specialists.
Then, Perry’s appointees at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality overrode their own geologists and engineers to issue permits to Waste Control. They also denied citizens the right to have a contested case hearing — a quasi-judicial dog-and-pony show that the commissioners usually ignore anyway. Six months after the executive director of TCEQ issued the radioactive waste licenses, he left the agency and went to work for the company. The latest is that another state agency, mostly consisting of Perry appointees, approved rules earlier this year opening the West Texas dump to 36 other states’ radioactive waste.
The Montgomery County story contains the same essential elements: The rich friends/donors, the environmentally-dubious project and the bowing-and-scraping apparatchiks at the state environmental agency.
Veteran Perry watchers will be able to cite many other examples of more-or-less the same story.
That’s the thing about Perry: He’s just so brazen about it. His system of “pay to play” largely operates in the open for anyone to see. And they make no apologies for it. That’s just how bidness is done and too many citizens have become numb to it.
To an outsider, the whole rotten enterprise is jaw-dropping. Here’s how Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi described it:
But Rick Perry has managed to set a scary new low in the annals of opportunism, turning Texas into a swamp of political incest and backroom dealing on a scale not often seen this side of the Congo or Sierra Leone.
In an era when there’s exponentially more money in politics than we’ve ever seen before, Perry is the candidate who is exponentially more willing than we’ve ever seen before to whore himself out for that money. On the human level he is a nonpersonality, an almost perfect cipher – a man whose only discernible passion is his extreme willingness to be whatever someone will pay him to be, or vote for him to be.
Oh and the first person to write in the comments, “Why are you surprised about any of this?” wins a free T-shirt.