Texas Monthly blog on Williamson-Carona clash…"Carona is right; Williamson is wrong"

Link to blog here.

Williamson, Carona to Meet Today Following Spat
By Paul Burka
Texas Monthly
Wednesday, February 14, 2007

By now, just about everybody knows about the confrontation between Senate transportation chairman John Carona and Tx-DOT chairman Ric Williamson in the House Transportation committee. (Their exchange has been posted on YouTube by anti-toll activist Sal Costello.) Carona went to the committee meeting in the hope of getting Williamson to agree to an appointment. Although Williamson stonewalled in the hearing, to his credit, he subsquently called Carona and they will meet at 3:30 this afternoon.

Toll roads aside, the most significant part of the exchange, which I have italicized in my transcription below, is Carona’s challenge of Williamson’s view of an imperial governorship (my description, not Carona’s).

Carona: I’m just trying to get an appointment with this gentleman, and I understand his calendar is booked up through March, and I just wondered if I could ask you, Chairman Williamson, if you and I could meet sometimes this week on important transportation issues.

Williamson: I’ll [pause], You are a clever guy [general hilarity], but I have to be sure I haven’t worn out my welcome.

Carona: Well, it will go a long way to the relationship if I can see you this week, at your convenience, on transportation issues. There are so many issues that we’re facing, and I think you and I recognize that we have a difference of opinion but we might find that we have more in common on these issues that we realize, but we can’t achieve any of that unless we meet. So I would be grateful for the meeting.

Williamson: I’ll look forward to visiting with you about this.

Carona: This week?

Williamson: Yes, sir–

Carona: Thank you–

Williamson: Visiting with you about the appointment.

Carona: Oh, you mean you can’t commit?

Williamson: No, I’ll call you, I’ll call you.

Carona: Okay. Can I expect that sometime this week, an appointment?

Williamson: I will call you.

Carona: This highlights part of the problem right here. You know you mentioned that you have one boss to work for, but you really don’t, you have the people of the state to work for, and you have one hundred and eighty-one members of the Legislature to work for, and it is this kind of lack of commitment and artful dodging for something as basic as an appointment to meet with you that causes the hostility and the friction that exists right now, and I think that’s unfortunate. It is tragic that we have come to a day in Texas politics, at leasts as it exists in transportation policy, that any disagreement with your views, and I presume the views of the commission, would result in your unwillingness to ever meet. I would be equally offended if you were unwilkling to meet with Chairman Krusee, but the fact that you would sit down there and be so arrogant that you would not even commit to a meeting date, when I’m telling you that over the next several days I’ll be available at any time that would work for you, and I’ll tell you, it certainly doesn’t build the kind of relationship any of us want to see.

Williamson: Thank you.

Carona: So are you refusing to make a commitment for a meeting this week?>

Williamson: Frankly, Senator, I’m speechless at this point.
(end of video)

This is the phrase that I found significant, especially considering that the governor and the Legislature appear to be headed for a major standoff over who’s the boss in the Capitol:

Carona: You know you mentioned that you have one boss to work for, but you really don’t, you have the people of the state to work for, and you have one hundred and eighty-one members of the Legislature to work for….

Williamson’s “one boss to work for” comment, referring to the governor, was made during the committee hearing, before Carona began asking questions. The trouble is, Williamson is wrong. The governor is not the boss of the Texas Transportation Commission. The governor appoints the members of the commission, with the advice and consent of the Senate. He designates its chairman. After that, it is the commission that makes the decisions on transportation policy. The governor can support legislation, which he has done, and he can make requests and give suggestions, which he has done, but he has no executive authority over general transportation policy.

This is from the Tx-DOT Web site, concerning FAQs:

Q: What are the commission’s responsibilities? A: The Texas Transportation Commission is responsible for:
* planning and making policies for the location, construction and maintenance of state highways,
* overseeing the design, construction, maintenance and operation of the state highway system,
* developing a statewide transportation plan that contains all modes of transportation, including highways and turnpikes, aviation, mass transportation, railroads, high-speed railroads and water traffic,
* awarding contracts for the improvement of the state highway system,
* encouraging, fostering and assisting in the development of public and mass transportation in the state, and
* adopting rules for the operation of the department.

Nowhere does it say that the Commission is responsible to the governor–because it isn’t. The Legislature, not the governor, has created boards and commissions that run state agencies. These boards and commissions consist of citizens appointed by the governor, and they, along with the Legislature, make transportation policy. Not the governor. The governor may suggest and attempt to persuade, but the commission and its chairman are free to do what they want. There is nothing to prevent Williamson from implementing the governor’s wishes, but there is also nothing to prevent him from refusing to implement them, should he so choose. They are only wishes, not commands. Constitutionally, the governor is not Williamson’s boss. The Legislature is. Carona is right and Williamson is wrong.

It is looking more and more like this session, and the next four years, will be dominated by clashes between the executive and legislative branches over the extent of the powers of the governor.