January 25, 2007
At one point this week, someone mentioned to me that we’re 1/10th of the way through the session. As the saying goes, time flies when you’re in an absolute frenzy.
A couple of big happenings this week . . .
On Monday, I was part of an announcement of a bill I’m co-authoring that would put Texas at the forefront of cancer research with a substantial investment in efforts to cure that terrible disease.
Those who know me know how much this means to me. Getting and beating cancer is part of what defines me. It took both of my parents, and it afflicted Liz’s parents, as well. This is an issue that has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats — it’s about the commitment, innovation, and compassion of Texas and its people. It’s also about increasing funding that will benefit higher education and bring some great minds to our state.
Then, on Tuesday, I filed what is the official First Bill Of My Legislative Career. It is Senate Bill 286, and it would provide additional money so that more persons with disabilities and elderly Texans can receive home-delivered meals through programs such as Meals On Wheels.
Rep. Warren Chisum is carrying the bill in the House. He joined me (well, it’s actually more like I joined him) for my first press conference as a Texas Senator (click here to watch it).
I’ve known Rep. Chisum for more than 15 years, and we’ve always liked each other. Now, for those who don’t know him, Rep. Chisum is a Republican from Pampa who’s served in the House since 1989. He is one of our state’s better-known conservatives. So you’ve got Republican and Democrat. Small city and big city. Rural and urban. Long-time member and freshman. Conservative and, well, not as conservative.
Such comparisons prompted a reporter to pronounce (it wasn’t really a question, now that I think of it), “You’re an odd couple.”
But I quickly stepped up and, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Rep. Chisum, pointed out that he and I have no trouble seeing eye-to-eye. Literally. In other words, despite our being a heck of a duo on this bill, there’s not much chance he and I will go very far in the All-Legislature 2-on-2 Basketball Tournament.
Seriously, though, these sorts of partnerships represent the very best of all Texans. This bill will help a lot of people. It will actually save the state a lot of money by allowing the elderly and people with disabilities to remain in their homes, rather than forcing them into far more expensive assisted-living or nursing facilities. And it represents exactly what legislators should be doing — rising above labels, finding the common humanity in people, and passing good laws that give us pride as both taxpayers and citizens.
. . . about me drifting into a sea of nothing but feel-good political ya-ya, let me fill you in on the other big event this week — my first meeting as chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board.
When I was running for the Senate, I said that our region had descended into a war between the “Tolls” army and the “No Tolls” army. Anyone who doubted that comment should have been at this meeting.
Even though I said a month ago that I wanted the board to shelve its scheduled vote on a controversial toll road system that was devised years before I came onto the board, and even though there was every indication the board would do just that, the politics of this issue have degenerated to the point that dozens of people screamed at us and called us names until nearly midnight — long after we finished doing exactly what they said they wanted.
I understand the frustration about this issue. To some degree, I share it. People want a transportation system that does more to serve them than tax them. They want transparency and accountability. They want to be treated as customers and constituents, not resources to be harvested.
But the truth is that the CAMPO board turned an important corner on Monday night. In tabling the toll roads, the board gave itself a blank slate on which to plot this region’s future. In endorsing bylaws changes and a recomposition of its board, it voted to become more functional, accountable, and responsive. And in supporting my proposal to work toward a policy framework that will allow us to evaluate different policies, it is positioned to create a truly comprehensive transportation system that includes rail, new roads, rapid buses, and other tools.
I don’t know whether there was ever a time for the blind, angry fighting that’s come to define this issue. I’ve never believed in that brand of politics. Yelling and name-calling ain’t what our mommas taught us to do.
I do know that it’s time to start addressing our challenges and stop attacking one another.
You’ll be seeing a lot in the next few weeks about CAMPO’s progress toward a comprehensive transportation plan and policy framework. I encourage you to follow our process and to help us create a product that protects and serves you and your neighbors.
But this process is going to be positive, and it’s going to be rooted in reality. You, me, and all Central Texans deserve a lot better than misinformation, prejudice, and just plain nastiness on this issue. And that goes for everybody.
Now, eat your vegetables.
I’m in Mexico City right now. I’m down here with a number of pretty fine, dignified folks, including President Bill Powers of the University of Texas at Austin, and James Huffines, the Chair of the UT Board of Regents. We’re meeting with the U.S. Ambassador and some of Mexico’s leaders, including a bunch of UT alumni, to promote relationships in Mexico as well as economic development in Central Texas. I came down yesterday. I’m hosting a breakfast this morning, together with President Powers and the Mexican Consul General in Austin, Jorge Guajardo. I should be back tonight.
One last thing I’ve got to get in here. On Wednesday night, Preston Watson was inducted into the Austin High School National Honor Society. Both of his proud, proud parents attended. Good kid.
There’s no football this weekend. So, if you see me, I’ll probably be a little disoriented until Monday.
Until then . . .