3/6/2014Texas Voters Reject Red Light Camera Candidates
State legislators most responsible for red light cameras in Texas lose primary elections.
Two of the figures most responsible for the spread of red light cameras in the Lone Star State lost their jobs Tuesday. Texas state Senator John Carona (R-Dallas) and state Representative Linda Harper-Brown (R-Irving) were both defeated in Republican primary elections. Rodney Anderson, a one-term state representative, took out Harper-Brown with 53 percent of the vote. Tea Party candidate Don Huffines ousted Carona by 636 votes.
Harper-Brown's service to the photo enforcement industry is legendary. Over the course of eight years, the Texas House had consistently and overwhelmingly rejected bills to authorize red light cameras. Harper-Brown came up with a solution. When a bill dealing with commercial motor vehicle standards was on the floor in 2003, she snuck in a one-sentence provision allowing municipalities to issue "civil" citations for traffic crimes. Most House members did not notice the provision until it after it became law. They were furious at what they saw as an underhanded move, and the vote to strip Harper-Brown's language passed by a three-to-one margin. The state Senate blocked its repeal.
Harper-Brown was richly rewarded for her efforts. Paradigm Traffic Systems, which sells equipment used by the red light camera industry, provided a black 2010 Mercedes E550 sedan and a 2004 Chevy Tahoe to Harper-Brown and her husband William Brown. Harper-Brown insisted she did not have to disclose the gift because the cars were for her husband, an accountant, but WFAA-TV caught her driving the vehicle with her official state license plates. The Texas Values in Action Coalition filed a complaint in 2010, and the Texas Ethics decision decided to fine the lawmaker $2000 in 2012.
"Even if the vehicles at issue were the separate property of the respondent's spouse in the form of compensation, the facts indicate that the respondent exercised control over that property," the commission ruled. "The respondent was therefore required to disclose on her personal financial statements covering calendar years 2008 and 2009 the financial activity of her spouse."
Once Harper-Brown's red light camera law was in place, it fell to the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee to block any threats to the photo ticketing program. In 2007, Carona came up with the law diverting photo ticketing revenue to the state and to trauma centers, creating vested interests in the survival of red light cameras. In 2009, Carona thwarted House efforts to ban red light cameras and increase yellow signal times by using a Senate-supported gasoline tax increase provision as leverage to convince tax-averse House members to drop the anti-camera provisions. Carona had taken nearly $24,500 in campaign cash from Linebarger, Goggan, Blair and Sampson, the photo ticketing collection firm.
In November, red light camera foe Michael Kubosh was elected to the Houston city council. Kubosh is a member of the family that put a ban on red light cameras on the ballot over the fierce objection of the mayor and most of the council. Voters strongly endorsed the ban.