Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday that Democrat Bill White should leave the governor's race if it's true that he owned part of a company that got taxpayer money to deal with Hurricane Rita while White was mayor. White's campaign responded by saying Perry is lying about White's record to avoid debating the Democrat before the November election.
“By his own admission, Bill White intervened regarding a contract given to BTEC, a company he had personal financial ties with, to provide generators for the Houston Coastal Water Authority following Hurricane Rita’s landfall in 2005. If this is true, and Bill White did unethically steer taxpayer dollars to a company he had a personal financial stake in, I am calling on him to immediately resign from the race for governor.
“Hurricane Rita was one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit our state, affecting hundreds of thousands of Texans. For the mayor of Houston to engage in profiteering during a tragedy is unacceptable and local authorities should investigate this alleged violation of public trust, as well as any others that may exist. Bill White has an obligation to the people of Texas to address these allegations immediately.
“There is no greater responsibility for a governor than to protect citizens from a natural disaster. I am proud that Texas is a national leader in emergency preparedness and response, and I will continue to make this a priority as we enter the current hurricane season.”
Perry's remarks were made in response to an Associated Press report that White invested in a company — Btec Turbines — that had been hired, when he was mayor, to assist in the cleanup after Hurricane Rita. White was on the company's board before he was mayor, and invested $1 million in the company after the hurricane work was done. He told the news service he made $500,000 on that investment. Katy Bacon, his campaign spokeswoman, reiterated Wednesday that White had no conflict of interest, because he had no financial stake in the firm at the time it was receiving government money. "Career politician Rick Perry has sunk to new lows," she said via email. "His attack on Bill White's leadership after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is not only false, but absolutely appalling. Bill White had no financial interest in BTEC during that time."
White's pay from the Wedge group wasn't for current employment, his campaign says, but he was receiving compensation deferred from before he became mayor. He wasn't on the payroll for active employment when he was working as mayor, working the storm, and the city was hiring Btec. ""The Perry campaign knows this and is pursuing a phony issue to avoid a debate. They are manufacturing lies to avoid a debate," said Michael Moore, White's campaign manager.
White himself responded to Perry's remarks (this is a rare instance where the candidates are speaking for themselves instead of watching surrogates battle):
"Rick Perry is manufacturing phony issues in an attempt to hide from debates. I had no financial interest in BTEC during the time of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The water supply for more than half a million people and our refineries was at risk. I was a part of a crisis team that took action, and I think the proof is in the results. Perry took no issue with my leadership in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita until this election year. Career politician Rick Perry is doing anything to avoid a debate because he doesn't want to talk about how he's nearly doubled state spending, doubled state debt and how Texas is facing an $18 billion dollar shortfall, the largest in Texas history."
White's campaign put out this timeline of their own in response to Perry's charges:
Lynchburg Reservoir Crisis and BTEC timeline
December 2003: Bill White resigns the Wedge Group and BTEC board after being elected Houston's mayor. White has no involvement with, or financial interest in BTEC.
September 24, 2005: Hurricane Rita hits the Texas Gulf Coast. When Rita hit the coast it was a category 3 hurricane. Earlier in the Gulf Rita had reached category 5 strength.
September 24, 2005: Hurricane Rita knocked out power to the critical Lynchburg Reservoir pumping station. Entergy supplies the only power link to the pumping station.
NOTE: The Lynchberg Reservoir supplies water to more than 600,000 residents and more than 75 industrial and manufacturing customers. The reservoir has a 5 day supply of water. The Coastal Water Authority manages the pumping station.
September 24, 2005: Judge Robert Eckels and Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt brought the major problem to Bill's attention through a phone call from Paul Bettencourt. Bill White, an energy expert, is called upon to help solve the crisis.
NOTE: At the time Hurricane Rita hit, the region was dealing with the largest evacuation in U.S. history due to Rita and the influx of nearly 200,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans.
September 24-25, 2005: A crisis team was formed at the Houston Emergency Center. Public works professionals looked for emergency power sources to avoid a shutdown of water and sewer systems and refining industries. Many mobile generators were in Southern Louisiana at the time, assisting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Early estimates predicted it would take 10 days to get the 10 megawatts of power needed to the Lynchberg Resevoir pumping station.
September 24-25, 2005: White called the Secretary of Energy, the White House, FEMA, and Centerpoint Energy. At the time nobody had a solution to a mobile power supply. Bill White put the crisis team in touch with BTEC. BTEC has provided power services for military contractors in Iraq and are experts in power generation.
September 24-25, 2005: 2 solutions were developed in tandem to solve the problem.
1) Centerpoint would provide the needed connection within Entergy’s service area (outside Centerpoint’s service area). Centerpoint employed 75 full-time experts to work on the solution. 2) BTEC led an effort to acquire a portable 10 megawatt power supply of diesel generators. Reaching out to several suppliers, BTEC reached this portable agreement solution with the Coastal Water Authority, the manager of the pumping station.
September 27-28 2005: Centerpoint made the connection to the pumping station in the "11th hour," according to Mike Marcotte, Director of Public Works for the City of Houston. BTEC provided temporary assistance on-site in case Centerpoint’s connection failed.
September 2006: The Sterling Group buys interest in BTEC. Sterling Group asks Bill White to join investment in BTEC.
December 2006: Bill White becomes an investor in Sterling Groups Interest in BTEC.