Saturday, May 26, 2007

"A dogged sense of determination."

Architect of toll road freeze is credited for her tenacity

Kolkhorst honed persuasive skills marketing TCU sports

May 26, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – Rep. Lois Kolkhorst's quest to put a two-year freeze on private toll roads might have gotten its start on Frog Alley.

While working as Texas Christian University's athletic marketing director in the mid-1990s, Ms. Kolkhorst helped create Frog Alley, a pre-game street fair at Horned Frog football games.

The night before the event's debut, she had to scramble to set everything up and ended up drafting then-Chancellor William Tucker, two vice chancellors, her husband and her mother to help.

"I had all the tables and chairs delivered, I just didn't have anyone to set it up," she said.

Those persuasion skills were key to Ms. Kolkhorst marshaling support for a partial two-year moratorium on private toll roads. The bill could get lawmakers' final blessing today.

The Brenham Republican has emerged as a central figure in the Legislature's efforts to slow down the privatization of Texas roads. She has persuaded nearly all of her 149 House colleagues to back the moratorium, which excludes most North Texas toll projects.

Ms. Kolkhorst, 42, has parlayed a blend of persistence, fearlessness, smarts and country charm into a more visible role in Austin. In addition to leading the toll road freeze, she has been a key figure in budget talks and is chairwoman of a subcommittee that oversees public school funding.

Even those who don't agree with her give Ms. Kolkhorst credit for a dogged sense of determination.

"She's tenacious, and she does her homework," said Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, the sole lawmaker to vote against the first bill containing the moratorium earlier this month.

"She knows her issues," said Mr. Krusee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "She always comes prepared and works hard. You really can't ask for much more from your legislator, no matter how you feel about their policy."

Ms. Kolkhorst played golf at TCU and worked eight years at her alma mater before moving back to Brenham, a Central Texas town of just under 14,000 residents.

Her friend and mentor, the late Tony Proffitt, a longtime aide to former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, helped guide her political career, which revved up in 2000 with her election to the House.

Her can-do philosophy came through loud and clear in a 2003 commencement speech at Sam Houston State University. She placed a brick on the podium and challenged anyone in the crowd to show the gumption to remove it.

"Be a doer," she told the graduates. "Don't go through life saying someone else will do it."

She has followed that strategy with the toll road moratorium, teaming with Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, to push for a two-year ban on private toll deals.

When Ms. Kolkhorst's moratorium could not get a hearing in Mr. Krusee's transportation committee, she went around Mr. Krusee and added her measure to a county affairs bill on the House floor.

"She certainly has stepped to the plate and been a champion," said David Stall, co-founder of CorridorWatch, a grass-roots group that opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor.

This week, as lawmakers negotiated a compromise to the session's main transportation bill, the main sticking point was a Kolkhorst amendment that Gov. Rick Perry's office wanted to scuttle.

Ms. Kolkhorst held her ground for several days before deciding that her amendment was not necessary to enforce a moratorium. She said she stayed up until 4 a.m. Thursday doing some "soul-searching" before she decided to sign off on the compromise.

"I'm one of those personalities that says, I want it all and I want it right now," she said. "That was too difficult to get. It's peeling back an onion and going through the layers. And we got through several layers this session."

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