By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In working on my column about this two weeks ago, I tried, of course, to reach Dallas Congresswoman Johnson, who has always been both an important champion and a diligent regulator of the Trinity River Project.
Hutchison's riders were attached to the Senate version of an unrelated appropriations bill. In order to become law, the riders would have to be accepted by House members of a conference committee, whose job would be to get the House version and the Senate version on the same page so both can become one law.
I was really curious how Johnson would react to the Hutchison riders. Johnson has supported the Trinity project over the years with a ton of earmark money—the only way it can be paid for since neither White House, not Bush nor Obama, has ever supported the project.
Johnson has always vowed that her main interest is flood control. The Hutchison riders were the equivalent of giving a great big one-fingered bird to flood control. I thought maybe Johnson would balk at that.
And I think she did. Briefly.
Neither she nor her staff would return or respond to my calls or e-mails over a two-week period. It happens. I think they're probably still mad at me for some stuff I outted them on last year concerning Dallas' Inland Port project.
Actually, I'm accustomed to people refusing to acknowledge me. I assume the time will come when I will have to pay somebody else to call my dog. I try working around it.
Without going into too much detail and divulging important proprietary reporting techniques (patents pending), it so happened that I found myself on the other end of the line last week when Johnson conducted a teleconference "town hall meeting."
You know: These are the mass call-in telephone things the pols, especially Democrats, are doing now so they won't have to hold real town hall meetings and expose themselves to the Tea Party crazies. I don't blame them.
I was "Jim" from Dallas. Look, that's how it works. When it came my turn to ask a question, Congresswoman Johnson said, "Go ahead, Jim." She didn't say, "...as long as you're not that guy from the Observer we've been ducking all week."
So I went ahead. By the way, I intend to be on the horn for a lot of these things in the future. It's fun— democracy in action. Sort of.
I asked Johnson about the Hutchison riders. She said, "From what I understand, there was some consideration about the levees becoming historical."
That wasn't not true, of course, but the more important thing I heard her say was that Hutchison might have approached the problem—whatever the problem might be—the wrong way legally and legislatively, both in terms of the wording of the riders and the way they were introduced:
"It's on the appropriations bill," she said of Hutchison's riders. "I am not on the appropriations committee, but I have tried to look into it to see if the language needs to be straightened out.
"It is not in the jurisdiction of the appropriations committee, because it's law and it's authorization, and it should come through a committee. As a matter of fact it should come through the committee that I chair." (EBJ is chair of the House subcommittee on water resources and environment.)
"I don't know whether that will pass," she said. "We are working on the appropriations package now, and I know it has been questioned whether it would be an appropriate vehicle to write an authorizing law. I have not been consulted by the committee as of yet, but I know that will happen in the next couple of days or so."
So I heard her saying she was aware of problems with the way the riders were worded and had reservations about the basic approach. She said she was looking into it. And if she and her staff even scratched the surface, they would find that Hutchison's story about flood insurance was a deception.
We spoke on July 3, a Saturday. The following Wednesday, EBJ came out in favor of the Hutchison riders. Her staff issued a statement saying, "Included in the bill are key provisions such as protecting an existing Senate amendment that exempts the Corps of Engineering and the Federal Highway Administration from having to determine if the Trinity River Levees are historic.
"Without these exemptions, Dallas residents would almost certainly be burdened with having to purchase flood insurance."
EBJ bought it. The whole thing. Even the con job about insurance. She had to know better.
Between Saturday and Wednesday, I believe Johnson must have received the call from Dallas. The Trinity River Project call. I imagine that she stood up from the phone, did her feet like this and her hips like that, bent forward and knocked herself in the forehead with her knuckles.
The Trinity River Project Knuckle-Under.
EBJ was the only person in Congress who had enough clout to slow this thing down. I think she was headed in that direction. But she turned. Now those riders are going to become law.