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Democrat Wendy Davis says voting record in state Senate didn't conflict with her law clients

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AUSTIN, Texas — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis voted for bills in the Texas Senate that affected her clients and sought federal money while in office for a transportation project being handled by her Fort Worth law firm, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Davis told The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/1if719N ) that no conflicts of interests occurred. She and Republican opponent Greg Abbott have made ethics an issue in the race to succeed Gov. Rick Perry.

Voting records reviewed by the newspaper show Davis supported legislation governing a toll road project for which the North Texas Tollway Authority hired her law firm, Newby Davis, which she started with former Perry chief of staff Brian Newby.

Davis backed changes surrounding the collection of unpaid tolls that preceded a program in which law firms — including Davis' — were chosen to carry out the collections.

"I have never done anything in a way that represents a conflict in my voting and something that would benefit me personally," Davis told the newspaper. "If you look at my legislative work and see what I've done in terms of transparency and ethics to make sure that government officials, elected officials, are held to a standard they should be, I think it shows where I come from."

Being a state legislator is a part-time job in Texas. Under the state's relatively loose ethics laws, few lawmakers recuse themselves from legislation affecting their livelihoods.

For Davis, the issue is the line between public service and private legal work for public entities.

In June 2010, Davis wrote on Senate letterhead to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood seeking federal funds for a North Texas toll project — the Southwest Parkway/Chisholm Trail Parkway, a 27-mile toll road from Fort Worth to Cleburne.

The law firm on the project was Cantey Hanger, where Davis was working at the time. Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas said she was acting as a senator, not a lawyer, in making the request.

The funds were denied, but the federal government allocated money for another North Texas toll project that had the effect of freeing up money for the Chisholm Trail Parkway. In March 2011, the North Texas toll authority approved hiring Newby Davis to do land-condemnation work for the Chisolm Trail project.

While Davis' firm was working on land condemnation, the toll authority lacked the financial capacity to complete the project, according to the newspaper. The eventual solution was a plan that pledged state taxpayer money to back the Chisholm Trail project without the toll authority relinquishing control. Davis testified before a Senate committee in support.

Newby Davis has been paid more than $342,000 for work on the Chisholm Trail project, according to North Texas toll authority records obtained by the newspaper.


Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

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