Hegar: Delisi doesn't have my support

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COMMENTARY
Hegar: To gain my support, Delisi must prove me wrong
State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, TEXAS SENATE
Tuesday, May 06, 2008

On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced he had appointed Deirdre Delisi, his former chief of staff, chairwoman of the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation. As of today, I will not vote to confirm her appointment in the next legislative session.

Ask almost any Texan, especially those who have the need to travel frequently on Interstate 35, about our Texas transportation system and they will tell you that many of our roads have extreme congestion, while other construction projects have experienced significant cost overruns. Last year, TxDOT notified the public that it had experienced a billion-dollar accounting error, spent millions of dollars in an effort to persuade Texans that we need to pursue the proposed Tran-Texas Corridor even though the legislature had just passed a two-year moratorium on public-private agreements. The next legislative session will be a critical time as we work to ensure that TxDOT can regain the trust of Texans and to overcome the low opinion of what was once the most respected highway department in the nation.

In the Legislature, relations with TxDOT are also at an all-time low. Lawmakers’ questions and concerns about the Trans-Texas Corridor, the agency’s policies, funding schemes, budget and construction priorities have often been met with contempt and disdain by TxDOT officials. The result is that many legislators, including me, have lost confidence that TxDOT and its policies are working in the best interests of Texas taxpayers.

That is why I had high hopes that the governor would use the vacancy created by the untimely passing of former Transportation Chairman Ric Williamson as an opportunity to appoint someone who would work to change the status quo, reach out to lawmakers and work with the Legislature to address the concerns of the citizens we represent.

I view Delisi’s appointment as a squandered opportunity. Rather than choose someone to head the commission who will reach out and work cooperatively with legislators, the governor instead has chosen a political “yes woman” with little or no practical experience involving transportation issues other than carrying out Perry’s myopic vision that relies solely on building more toll roads and selling our highway infrastructure to the highest bidder, usually a foreign-owned company.

I serve as the vice chairman of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. In 1977, the Legislature created the commission to identify and eliminate waste, duplication and inefficiency in government agencies. The 12-member commission is a legislative body that reviews the policies and programs of more than 150 government agencies every 12 years. The commission questions the need for each agency, looks for potential duplication of other public services or programs and considers changes to improve each agency’s operations and activities. Currently, the Texas Department of Transportation is undergoing its 12-year Sunset review.

I also serve as a member of the Senate Nominations Committee, the panel that will have to vote to confirm Delisi’s appointment when the legislature reconvenes in January 2009. One might expect that the governor and Delisi would have contacted all members of these key committees to discuss their plans for TxDOT and to ask for our vote in the upcoming nomination process. Unfortunately, like most of my colleagues, I learned about the appointment from the news media.

The governor can certainly appoint anyone whom he sees fit, but as a state senator who takes his constitutional “advise and consent” responsibilities seriously, I would have hoped Perry would have sought out the advice of legislators before asking for our consent at this critical juncture in Texas history.

TxDOT’s vision statement says that the agency will work to:

“Promote a higher quality of life through partnerships with the citizens of Texas and all branches of government by being receptive, responsible and cooperative.”

Perry’s and Delisi’s recent actions with regard to this appointment are not in keeping with that statement but instead reflect a vision of non-cooperation and non-responsiveness to lawmakers and the constituents they serve.

I certainly hope that Delisi will prove me wrong. Likewise, I hope that between now and her Senate confirmation hearing next January she will attempt to change my perception that she will not be an agent of the status quo at TxDOT. If so, she may still have an opportunity to earn my confidence and my vote, and the taxpayers of our state and those who use and depend on our vast transportation system will be well served.

Hegar represents District 18.

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