Friday, February 08, 2008

"I will do whatever the governor asks me to do."

Perry's decision could shake up highway board

Many are seeking Williamson's spot; governor also may bump chairwoman

Feb. 8, 2008

Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express-News/ Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry's former chief of staff, a big campaign donor and people active in North Texas transportation are among contenders for a spot on the powerful commission that oversees state highways.

There's one vacancy on the five-member Texas Transportation Commission, left by the death of chairman Ric Williamson, but a Perry spokesman left open the possibility Friday that he could cause a bigger shake-up by deciding to replace Hope Andrade, of San Antonio.

The interim chairwoman, Andrade is the only commissioner from South Texas. Her term expired last year.

Andrade said the GOP governor has neither indicated he'll replace her nor assured her that she'll stay. Other commissioners are Ned Holmes, of Houston, Ted Houghton Jr., of El Paso and Fred Underwood, of Lubbock.

"I will do whatever the governor asks me to do," said Andrade, who was appointed by Perry in late 2003. "Whether it's one month, three months or one year, I'm going to do the best job I can to bring us all together to work on finding long-term solutions to our transportation funding challenges."

Perry spokesman Robert Black said replacing Andrade is "within the governor's purview" but "no decision has been made yet."

Matter of geography?

Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said, "We hope to keep Hope Andrade on the commission. ... She has been a hardworking, conscientious and able advocate for the needs, transportation-wise, of our part of the state. I think she deserves more time as a member."

Perry's office made it clear that his former chief of staff, Deirdre Delisi, of Austin, is in the running despite reported concerns by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

Like other officials from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Carona is pushing for an appointee who would give that region the geographic representation it lost with the death of Williamson, who was from Weatherford.

Among those being considered is former TXU chief executive and chairman Erle Nye, of Dallas, who has donated $203,000 to Perry since 2000 and would have to give up his seat on the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents to serve on the transportation panel. Black said contributions have no effect on appointments.

Looking for a post

Other applicants include former Fort Worth City Councilman Bill Meadows, a member of the North Texas Tollway Authority; former Duncanville City Councilman Grady Smithey Jr., a Perry appointee to a panel studying private participation in toll projects and secretary of the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition; former Denton County Commissioner Sandy Jacobs; Benny Fogleman, in insurance sales in Livingston; Alan Wade Tompkins, vice president and general counsel for Unity Hunt Inc. in Dallas; and Southlake Mayor Andrew Wambsganss.

Lawmakers have said it's important that the appointment take into account the need to smooth relations between the Legislature and the commission. The fiery Williamson tangled with lawmakers in pushing Perry's transportation vision, including private investment in toll roads, an avenue the Legislature sought to curtail.

Carona said in a speech that he was opposed to Delisi being appointed, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

"We don't need political hacks in that position," Carona said, according to the newspaper report. "We need people who understand the business. We need people who understand transportation. We don't need someone who's unpopular with the Legislature."

Black said, "I'm really not going to dignify that, other than to say I think Deirdre Delisi, over her tenure in state government, has proven herself to be an exceptional leader and incredibly talented individual."

Delisi, 35, was Perry's gubernatorial campaign manager in 2002 and worked in George W. Bush's first presidential campaign.

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