Thursday, November 29, 2007

"The goals Krusee couldn't reach legislatively, we are left to assume, he will pursue administratively."

Krusee won't seek re-election

Williamson County Republican reshaped Austin area's transportation system

November 28, 2007

By Laylan Copelin , Ben Wear
Austn American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

State Rep. Mike Krusee, a Williamson County Republican who reshaped the Austin area's transportation system and, with Gov. Rick Perry, turned Texas toward a toll-centric approach to highway building, will not seek re-election next year.

Krusee, 48, is not leaving the public stage right away. He will serve out his term, which runs through January 2009; will continue serving on national panels on transportation and urban planning; and could return to a statewide post after he retires from the Legislature.

Talk around the Capitol is that Krusee, who has served in the House since 1993, could have been in line for a gubernatorial appointment, possibly to the Texas Transportation Commission, but the state constitution bars a lawmaker from accepting a state job that requires Senate confirmation during his or her term.

Simply resigning would not have circumvented the prohibition. By not seeking re-election, Krusee could be considered for an appointment as early as January 2009.

"It's not like there's an open invitation," Krusee said. "It's just leaving the door open."

When he leaves the Legislature, Krusee will be able to count almost 80 miles of toll roads built in Central Texas since he became chairman of the House Transportation Committee in 2003, a fact that endeared him to some and made him an enemy of others.

Re-election was not a certainty.

Last year, Krusee narrowly defeated a Democratic opponent in a county known as a Republican stronghold.

He had already attracted a Democratic opponent for next year, Round Rock school trustee Diana Maldonado, and there was speculation that House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, might recruit a Republican to run against him.

Several Republicans are expected to consider running for the House seat, although the one mentioned most often, Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell, ruled himself out.

"I'm not interested in being anything but the mayor of Round Rock for the next six months," Maxwell said.

Williamson County GOP Chairman Bill Fairbrother predicted that at least three to five "elected officials, businesspeople and community activists" would in the next few days unveil plans to run.

In May, as both Republicans and Democrats in the House rebelled against Craddick, Krusee delivered a speech criticizing the speaker's refusal to recognize any motion to remove him from his leadership post.

"Questioning leadership is the highest privilege this body has," Krusee said that night as Craddick looked on. "And it belongs to the body, not to the presiding officer."

This summer, Craddick attended a Krusee fundraiser, however, raising speculation that the two former allies had settled their differences. On several occasions this summer, Krusee insisted that he would run for re-election.

Maldonado said Tuesday that Krusee's surprise retirement will only fuel speculation that Krusee will be back to lead state transportation policy.

"The goals he couldn't reach legislatively, we are left to assume, he will pursue administratively," Maldonado said.

Krusee said Tuesday that he has no intention of lobbying. He said he will continue to work for a title company and his document-retrieval firm while pursuing his "passion" for transportation and New Urbanism, an urban-planning movement that promotes a return to traditional "walkable" neighborhoods.

Krusee is on the board of the nonprofit group Congress for New Urbanism and advises Congress and the Bush administration on transportation funding as a member of the National Transportation Finance Commission.

"It's a national crisis that is looming," Krusee said of transportation funding. "I think I can do better for the region, state and country outside of the Legislature."

Over the past 14 years, Krusee had a roller coaster career, primarily because of his relationship with House speakers.

When he first went to the Capitol, Krusee blamed then-Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, for his slow start in the House. Krusee was never part of the leadership team because he and Laney disagreed over how to finance education.

In 2003, when Republicans took control of the House, Krusee backed Craddick's election as speaker and became a key figure in the leadership team.

Krusee took over as chairman of the House Transportation Committee at a crucial juncture for Texas roads. Revenue from the frozen-in-amber gasoline tax was falling short as surging urban populations and Texas' position as a NAFTA trade corridor were jamming up key segments of the state highway system. Perry and his appointees on the transportation commission found Krusee to be an enthusiastic legislative point man for their agenda, which depended on turning to toll roads wholesale.

In that first session as chairman, Krusee carried House Bill 3588, a huge measure that created a framework for Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor plan for cross-state supertollways, gave power and money to newly created local toll agencies, and allowed existing highways to be converted into toll roads.

The bill was passed overwhelmingly in relative obscurity because of legislative focus elsewhere. But its sweeping effects became obvious within months as Central Texans fought attempts to toll a portion of U.S. 183 that was close to opening as a free road. Introduction in early 2004 of a seven-tollway plan in Central Texas, which would come on top of five other toll roads already under construction or nearing it, caused an uproar. Krusee was the architect and prime spokesman for that so-called "Phase II" plan.

That fracas didn't truly die down until a somewhat watered down version of the plan was approved this fall by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board, of which Krusee is a member. While Krusee voted for the plan in October, he was conspicuously absent from many of the meetings leading up to its passage.

Back in the Legislature, Krusee carried a 2005 refinement of HB 3588, which pulled back on converting free roads to toll roads but helped open a new front: private toll roads. That wrinkle turned the Legislature against the Perry agenda. And, in 2007, against Krusee.

Legislation that to some degree rolled back the 2003 and 2005 Krusee bills made it to passage after Speaker Craddick routed them around Krusee's committee.

In his early legislative days, Krusee was a Capital Metro critic but by 2003 had become a supporter of the Austin-basedagency's passenger rail plans.

In 2004, as Capital Metro was moving toward a referendum ona Leander-to-downtown-Austin starter line, Krusee was publicly calling for an area-wide system of commuter lines. He said Tuesday that he pushed behind the scenes for that 2004 referendum, which was approved by voters, to include not only the Leander line, but also downtown streetcars and rail connections to the University of Texas, the emerging Mueller development and the airport.

"I changed," Krusee said Tuesday, "and people's opinions of me changed, too."

In a statement, he thanked Austin Mayor Will Wynn, City Manager Toby Futrell and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, for working with him on regional issues. "They were willing to put aside the stereotype of me as a conservative Republican," Krusee said. "I put aside ideology ... and found everything wasn't as black and white."; 445-3617;; 445-3698

© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE