“Change anything? No. It’s still going to be hardball.”
Peggy Fikac and Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry’s pick of his former chief of staff to head the Texas Transportation Commission shows his continued focus on an issue that has sparked battles with top lawmakers.
The GOP governor’s support of private investment in public tollways as a key avenue for needed infrastructure is echoed by former aide Deirdre Delisi of Austin and a second commission appointee announced Wednesday, Bill Meadows of Fort Worth.
Both appointees see private investment as an important part of the picture, though not all of it, and said they want to work with lawmakers. The Legislature has sought to curb such projects, alarmed the state would go too far in ceding control of Texas’ infrastructure.
Sparks flew again with the announcement that Perry was appointing Delisi, his longtime politics and policy adviser. Her nomination drew praise but also concern from those who dislike Perry’s vision and style.
Meadows — who as vice chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority helped lead an entity that’s had turf battles with the Texas Department of Transportation, which the commission oversees — isn’t as high-profile a target. He also suits those who pushed for an appointment from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Both appointments are subject to Senate confirmation, though Delisi and Meadows are expected to be seated at the commission’s May meeting. Meadows fills the vacancy left by the death of former chairman Ric Williamson, a Perry friend who often butted heads with key lawmakers. Delisi succeeds Hope Andrade of San Antonio, whose term expired.
“I think the Bill Meadows appointment is a very good one. He is well-recognized in the community, and he has certainly positioned himself as a leader on transportation issues,” said Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who as chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee was often at odds with Williamson.
Carona said Delisi is intelligent and that he would “make every effort to have a successful relationship with her,” but whether he votes to confirm her when the Legislature next meets in 2009 “will depend on her conduct and her performance between now and January.”
“Both Republicans and Democrats have described her in the past (in her job with Perry) as being difficult to work with and not particularly cordial,” Carona said. Asked about his past critical comments of her possible appointment, he said, “I think that she is a political hack. I’ve said that before. It would be probably senseless for me to deny it.”
Delisi brushed aside the slap: “My response is that I’m looking forward to working with all members of the Legislature, just as I’m looking forward to working with the local officials, to solve our transportation problems. ... Our first and foremost concern should be how we get our transportation infrastructure built as quickly and effectively as possible.”
Toll roads and private leases to fund transportation “are certainly one of the tools that are available to local officials and the state,” Delisi said. “It is part of the solution; it’s probably not the only solution.”
Meadows said he wants to work in a respectful way with the Legislature.
“There is no question that the public-private partnership will be a critical and important part of meeting the transportation demands of the future. ... But I think at the end of the day, that’s not the only answer,” Meadows said. “And I think the governor’s transportation policy is broader than just that.”
Commission member Ted Houghton Jr. of El Paso said he knows Delisi and Meadows and is excited about the appointments. As for the effect on the commission’s relationship with lawmakers, he quipped, “The only way is up from here.”
The appointments won praise from groups including the Texas Association of Business, Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, Greater Houston Partnership, Texas Recreational Vehicle Association and Texas Motor Transportation Association.
Critics of the direction taken by Perry and TxDOT, including TexasTollParty.com founder Sal Costello and David Stall of CorridorWatch, said they didn’t expect any substantive change with Delisi as chair.
“Change anything? No. It’s still going to be hardball,” said Stall.
Delisi doesn’t see herself in the bulldog role that Williamson was known for.
“My philosophy in managing is it’s a team effort," she said. "These are big challenges, big challenges. To think that one person is going to be responsible for solving them is a fairy tale. It’s going to take a cooperative effort from the top all the way down, from the agency to the Legislature to the local officials.”
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