Imagine you're Tom Pauken. You're running a long-shot gubernatorial primary campaign against Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is better known, better funded and has already been christened "The Gov" by Texas Monthly. How can you possibly elbow your way into the narrow space to Abbott's right?
You do it the old-fashioned way, by striking a populist tone and hammer on vital issues that affect Texans' lives. In other words, you go after red-light cameras, as Pauken did today.
"As governor, I will work to end the use of red-light cameras in Texas," Pauken said, calling upon Greg Abbott to "honor the Republican party's platform on this issue instead of imitating Democrat Wendy Davis' support of cameras."
As demonstrated in cases throughout Texas, fines are being levied against individuals without proof they were driving the vehicle captured on camera. The cameras have been proven to malfunction and ticket innocent people. I have personally experienced both situations.
More importantly, I have seen no evidence that these devices improve safety and they may actually cause drivers to speed through green or yellow lights, or stop suddenly when the light turns yellow. In many cases these cameras are seen by local government officials as simply another revenue source. There are fairer ways to fund municipal government than this dubious use of red-light cameras.
It's true, the Republican platform part. The Texas GOP has been calling for a ban on red-light cameras for several years, because fines are levied "against individuals without proof of their having been the driver of the offending vehicle."
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Abbott's position, however, is a bit more nuanced than Pauken makes it out to be. Here's the stand he took on red-light cameras during the first real policy speech of his campaign:
Big brother is not only collecting and selling your information, he is also watching you as you drive through traffic lights. Both the advocates of red-light cameras and detractors have a point. One emphasizes safety, the other privacy. But I believe it should be up to you the people to decide whether red-light cameras are right for your community. So I propose changing Texas law to allow voters the option to repeal red-light camera ordinances by voter-initiated referendum.
Pauken's jab at Davis is also a bit misleading. She was a member of the Fort Worth City Council in 2007 when it voted unanimously to add red-light cameras, but it's hardly a key part of her platform. On her campaign page, Davis touts her focus on such picayune issues as education, the economy and government accountability.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.