For years it had been a mystery how the Texas House of Representatives, 83 percent of whose members voted to ban photo enforcement, could nonetheless endorse the use of red light cameras. An ethical storm that broke around state Representative Linda Harper-Brown (R-Irving) last month provides the answer. Harper-Brown, a Transportation Committee member, accepted unreported gratuities from a traffic camera firm in return for playing the decisive role in establishing the automated ticketing industry in the Lone Star State.
Over the course of four legislative sessions from 1995 to 2003, the House outright rejected all attempts to give legislative legitimacy to intersection ticket cameras. There simply was no way to pass the legislation in an open floor vote. The industry turned to Harper-Brown, who willingly snuck a one-sentence provision allowing municipalities to issue “civil” citations for traffic crimes into unrelated legislation dealing with commercial motor vehicle standards. Most House members did not notice the provision until it was too late and were furious at what they saw as an underhanded move — the vote to strip Harper-Brown’s language passed by a three-to-one margin. The state Senate leadership, however, protected the cameras by using a parliamentary maneuver. Governor Rick Perry (R) did nothing to undo Harper-Brown’s work.
The Texas Values in Action Coalition (TEXVAC), a group that supports Democratic candidates, filed corruption charges with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office and the US Attorney for the Northern District of Texas after it learned that Harper-Brown had been driving luxury vehicles paid for by a firm that tried to land lucrative traffic camera contracts. Harper-Brown drives a black 2010 Mercedes E550 sedan with official state license plates, a fact confirmed on video by WFAA-TV in Dallas. Paradigm Traffic Systems and Durable Specialties, firms owned by Jeffrey C. Bryan, provided another E-Class and a 2004 Chevy Tahoe to Harper-Brown and her husband William Brown.
“Unless there are facts that we could not uncover from the public record, it appears that Harper-Brown has engaged in a systematic and ongoing violation of the public trust where she has used her position on powerful committees in the Texas House to enrich herself and her friends,” Ed Cloutman, an attorney representing TEXVAC, said in a statement.
Harper-Brown defended her actions, saying that her husband’s work with Durable predated her election to the House by eighteen years and that his work is completely separate from hers. She insisted that her official financial disclosure is “complete, current and accurate,” even though it does not mention the free automobiles.
“You see, my husband and I have taken extra steps to make sure my personal financial statements fully comply with the law,” Harper-Brown said in a video statement. “And we keep our business interests completely separate to avoid any kind of conflicts. I’ve always been a fighter for open and transparent government. I won’t let some sleazy attacks from Washington, DC liberals stop me from fighting… They say anything to win so they can advance their partisan agenda.”