With Primary Looming, Congressman Kevin Brady Wades Into the Bullet Train Fight

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Just in case his constituents were not already aware of his stance on the Houston-to-Dallas bullet train project, U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady made it clear that he's against it. The longtime congressman sent a letter to state legislators urging them to get State Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton to decide whether Texas Central Partners, the company that plans to build a Houston-to-Dallas high-speed rail line, has the right to use eminent domain to obtain land for the project.

Brady issued the letter to nine state legislators on Friday. 

“Taking property against a landowner’s will, especially land that may have been in the family for generations, is a serious matter. Because this is a state project, I am requesting your leadership in determining if Texas Central Partners has state eminent domain power. I question that it does," Brady wrote. 

The high speed rail project has been controversial since news of the project first broke. If everything goes according to plan, officials with Texas Central Partners, the company that is planning on constructing the high-speed rail line, say that by 2021, a Houston-to-Dallas bullet train line (Japan Central's N700 Shinkansen) will be toting passengers between the two cities at speeds of up to 200 mph, or a 90-minute one-way trip. Critics of the high-speed rail project have maintained that the bullet train will benefit people who live in Houston and Dallas while those in the rural counties will lose their land through eminent domain without getting anything out of it, as we wrote in our August cover story "On the Line."

Brady isn't the only one to come out against the proposed Houston-to-Dallas bullet train line. State legislators tried to take away Texas Central's right to use eminent domain during the 2015 state legislative session, but their attempts were defeated, as we've previously reported. Eminent domain is a huge issue because Texas Central would have a very difficult time building the line without it.

Brady is no stranger to the bullet train issue. Back in the 1990s, when he was still in the state legislature, Brady was one of the main opponents of a controversial high-speed rail project. Brady helped defeat the 1990s project before he was elected to the U.S. Congress.

However, this time around there's not a lot Brady can do to fight against Texas Central's plans. Texas Central is privately funding the entire venture, so the company won't have to apply for any federal project certification. Since it's not federal, the only thing the congressman can do is talk and write letters.

(He and some senators did manage to zero out all funding for President Obama's high-speed rail projects in 2014 and blocked any high-speed rail funding in Amtrak's $8 billion reauthorization bill in 2015, but neither of those things really hurts Texas Central's plans.)

But considering Brady is in a primary race against Steve Toth, a former state legislator known for using the old I'm-a-better-Republican-than-you-are tactic to defeat a five-term incumbent and win his seat in the state House of Representatives in 2012, it doesn't seem like a coincidence that Brady issued his letter now, right as we're rolling up to the primaries. 

After all, Brady has been in Congress since 1996 and he just became chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. In short, Toth could easily paint Brady as an establishment Republican who doesn't care about the rural people who will lose their land to a foreign company using eminent domain. 

So even though Brady can't do much to fight the Texas Central project, he did write a letter, and state legislators responded by asking Paxton to look into the eminent domain question. Now we just have to see if Paxton decides to wade into the eminent domain issue or not. 

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