MASON CITY — On the final campaign stop of his bus tour today — a town hall meeting in a large indoor replica of the fictional town of River City from The Music Man — Gov. Rick Perry was unexpectedly asked about an oldie-but-goodie political issue: the Trans-Texas Corridor.
It wasn't a detailed inquiry about the controversial proposal for a massive transportation network originally envisioned as a 4,000-mile network of highways, rail and utility lines. It amounted to little more than a Seinfeldian "What's the deal with that?"
Texans likely remember that the plan sparked a public outcry, particularly from farmers worried their land would be taken and from those suspicious of long-term private involvement in managing and money-making from state roads. Ultimately, it was abandoned.
Despite Perry's insistence that it had been taken off the table, the issue was frequently raised by his political opponents in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the primary and former Houston Mayor Bill White in the general. Perry easily defeated both.
Perry staffers, many of whom worked on the 2010 campaign, said they hadn't heard much about the Corridor in Iowa thus far, so that it came up at all was a surprise.
Perry downplayed past criticisms of the plan. "We’re a fast-growing state, so building more lanes of highway makes sense," he said, adding that the intent of the proposal became misconstrued.
"Somehow or another it got turned into this — I can’t remember the terminology — but a North American freeway from Mexico to Canada, and that became conspiratorial in some people’s minds," he said.
Perry found an Iowa-friendly rebuttal to that notion, saying, "There’s already a Trans-American Corridor. It’s called I-35."
"My point is that what people were concerned about is not that we’re going to build a highway," he continued. "Frankly, I hope our economy grows, that we need more lanes of highways, that we need to deepen our ports."
Then Perry, in his way, managed to pivot from the mention of ports to an issue he's more accustomed to discussing at these stops in Iowa: the alleged failings of the federal government.
"Defending our country's borders has really been a failure," he said. "I see it as a failure, particularly on the Texas-Mexico border."