Sound and Fury
February 13, 2007
By Ben Wear
Perhaps it signified nothing, other than to confirm that state Sen. John Carona and Texas Transportation Commission chairman Ric Williamson won’t be on each other’s Christmas card list this year.
But it was certainly an unusually frank and open discussion, as they say in diplomatic circles, that the two transportation leaders had today.
Williamson was the star witness before the House Transportation Committee this morning, invited there by the committee chairman, state Rep. Mike Krusee, to make his case about the state’s transportation funding shortfall and the Perry administration’s toll-centric approach to addressing it. Then Carona, a Dallas Republican who chairs the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, showed up.
Following legislative protocol, Krusee, R-Williamson County, invited his opposite number from the Senate side to sit in with the committee. Carona has called for Williamson’s ouster from the commission, by the way, and has filed a number of bills averse to Perry’s and Williamson’s transportation policy.
Granted the floor, Carona said that he’d tried to get on Williamson’s calendar and had been told it was full into March. So, he asked Williamson, will you commit here and now to meet with me this week?
“You are a clever guy,” Williamson said, trying to keep the moment light. “I look forward to meeting with you.”
Yes, but will you meet this week, Carona pressed? Williamson was non-committal. They went around the track a couple more times in this way, then Carona dropped the pretense of collegiality. Williamson was “arrogant,” he said, and engaging in “artful dodging.” A final time, he asked for a meeting this week.
Williamson paused. “Frankly Senator,” he said finally, “I’m speechless.”
Carona left shortly thereafter and the hearing continued. Krusee and state Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, later offered words of apology to Williamson for the episode, and Krusee quickly called Carona to set up a meeting. A meeting between Krusee and Carona, that is.
“I think we’re all better off when we’re discussing policy, and not personalities,” Krusee said after the meeting. He said that would be his message for Carona.
This session is shaping up as a rough one for the Texas Department of Transportation. Several senators last week gave agency officials a good grilling in the Senate Finance Committee, and Carona has sponsored a number of bills averse to the Perry/Williamson way of doing things. If nothing changes, this may be a session marked by the House passing its transportation bills, the Senate passing its own, and then all of the legislation ending up in a crumpled heap in the Rotunda.