Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Process Is the Thing: The Trans-Texas Corridor, Rick Perry & Good Governance

It's difficult, I think, to look at any politician and not be disappointed at some point. I always feel a little more comfortable when I know what the flaws are, where the weaknesses are likely, because then I can make a good judgmentcall on whether it's a flaw I can put up with.

Quite Rightly, of the compelling blog Bread Upon the Waters, made a comment that got me thinking about the now-cancelled Trans Texas Corridor and how things have changed since Perry proposed it in January 2001.

I replied briefly, but want to explore my thinking further on this topic, and why I think Perry's handling of the opposition and final public refusal of the project is a positive and healthy sign.

Rather than seeing it as a failed project or a bad idea, I tend to think of it as a model of how "big ideas" should be debated in a Republic: declared with detail in advance, wrestled over openly for a long time, in the
sunshine, with Texas/America's best interest the only goal, and all voices welcome and respected.

In fact, the way Governor Perry and our Texas Legislature handled the Trans-Texas Corridor was by a process exactly the opposite of how President Obama, Representative Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Harry Reid stage-managed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which was negotiated in secret, written in secret, voted on in secret, and shoved into place in the dead of night in a frenzied marathon after a six months reign of shrill tenor that misrepresented the bill, manipulated the facts, and maligned the

The changes to, and even avoidance of, the legislative process itself are among the most critical departures from normal that the Obama administration and Democratic Supermajority have done. When they abandoned the established rules of predictable governance and removed accountability for their decisions, they became unreliable. Methods used for corporate management or product marketing are not appropriate for effective governance.These new methods, regardless of outcome, are reason for concern: if we cannot trust the system of checks and balances, and the people who inhabit those roles within the system, what might happen next?

We can feel safer from even rotten ideas if we can somehow come back to a point where the process becomes trustworthy again. So, when I look at the political field, that capacity and determination to provide predictable, reliable governance is essential in a candidate. I believe that Governor Rick Perry has both the capacity and the determination, and that his handling of the Corridor project proves that.

Now, about that Corridor.

During the effective life of the Trans-Texas Corridor project, it was opposed mostly by rural land owners. As time passed and more disturbing facts about undercurrents in world events became known to our elected officials as well as to the public, others joined in opposing it. Eventually, the project was abandoned, and will not be resurrected. Governor Perry acceded to the will of the public, as is proper for an elected leader. And in the process, he did not cast undue blame, or dwell on the matter, or try to punish those who opposed it. Instead he behaved like a healthy adult.

To me, the Corridor was an idea of another time and place. America was different then, in January 2001 when the proposal was first announced as a vague idea, and even later, when we still thought perhaps we could "get back to normal". Texas was different, and honestly I expect that Rick Perry was different. He was a young Governor then. I know I've changed my opinions on a number of things as hidden things have come out into the open in the intervening decade.

In hindsight, the Trans-Texas Corridor is a big hurdle for a lot of people.  But Texas is known for our highways - we have the best roads in the nation, in part because of visionary planning. Heck, we have a constitutional amendment that protects our highway funds against being used for anything else. Texas has our own electric grid. Texas requires pipelines for water, oil, natural gas. Unlike other states, Texas infrastructure is NOT crumbling, because our leaders have maintained and constructed actively all along to plan for future health of the state and its people.

Horizons are not just something Texans aim for but something we move between.

So it's not hard for me to understand how a project like the TransTexas Corridor fit into the era in which it was first proposed - before Sept 11th, at the height of the tech revolution's wealth and optimism, still feeling the headiness of the millennium, back when most of us still thought most immigrants came here because they wanted to be Americans, and eBay let us trade with the whole wide world from our living rooms.

How many of us - including our leaders - knew in those "before the Fear" (ante-timorem?) days that within a decade we would be where we are now?

As an object lesson, the Trans-Texas Corridor is a good example of how a "Big Dream" should be wrestled with in a feisty democracy - exactly the opposite of how Obamacare was handled. The Texas process allowed everyone their voice and happened in the light of day over a period of years, so that the potential unintended consequences and "unknown unknowns" could come to light.

That's how it is with ideas: they all look like diamonds in the beginning - the fact that some prove to be rust when viewed more closely shouldn't keep our leaders from proposing more new ideas out in the honest open, or from engaging the debate in support, or from being willing to abandon a plan without looking back.

And if our representatives do the right thing, take the peoples' "No" for an answer, and abandon rejected ideas, we should appreciate that.

Just as we should appreciate our representatives who accept the peoples' "Yes" and enforce, fund and support those matters the citizenry have firmly demanded.

The failures, who need to be rejected and sent home as fast as their horse will carry them, are those representatives who refuse to abandon ideas the populous have rejected, and keep trying to sneak them in anyway; or who refuse to defend or enforce the law as it stands just because they personally or a coterie of interest groups don't like it.

We elect people to stand in our place, and look after our interests. In the process of doing that well, a good leader had better make a few errors or he isn't doing enough.

So, I say, let us respect the honest man who learns from his mistakes. Let's not browbeat anyone for being open minded enough to realize and admit when they were wrong.

The man who moves so carefully as to never get it wrong probably lacks the courage to ever get it truly right.

(PS, wanting to get this posted - I will be adding links along as I find them to flesh out the references)


  1. Tina -

    Thanks for this post!

    I just composed a long response, but my screen refreshed and erased it.

    I'm too tired right now to try again. But I will later.

  2. I hate when that happens. :-( If anyone is looking for a badly needed browser feature, there's one: a post box auto-save.

    I'm keen to hear your perspective. :-)



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