Easy, Rider: Eddie Bernice Johnson Rewrites History In Interview About Trinity Exemptions

We still have the South Dallas News in this town, only now they call it the DallasSouthNews. That's the name of the online publication Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson went to recently in order to rebut a recent column of mine about her. More this town changes, more it's the same old same old.

Couple weeks ago I wrote a column saying Johnson had taken a dive on the issue of flood safety for Dallas. Once a champion of good flood safety policy for the city, Johnson agreed to and took part in a legislative maneuver in Washington cooked up by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison aimed helping the Trinity River Toll Road.

Problem is: Greasing the skids for the toll road, the way Hutchison wanted to do it, put the shaft to flood safety.

Hutchison attached riders to an unrelated appropriations bill exempting the Dallas Trinity River Toll Road project from important federal environmental reviews -- basically saying the project is not subject to federal law. The maneuver changed federal criteria to greatly favor putting this proposed new superhighway out between the levees, where it will cause increased stress to the levees in times of flooding.

It was exactly the kind of thing Johnson should have opposed.

Hutchison offered a false justification for the riders, saying they were designed only to stop the federal government from declaring the levees historic, which she said would halt work on badly needed levee repairs. Slowing down the levee repairs to deal with historic designation issues, Hutchison said, would subject the community to flood danger.

That was just a lie. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in charge of fixing the levees, doesn't have to slow down one bit for historic designation issues. It isn't subject to the historic protection laws the same way other agencies are. Kevin Craig, in charge of the Trinity project for the Corps, told The Dallas Morning News that historic designation wouldn't be a problem: "We don't anticipate [historic designation] would delay or stop the work required for the 100-year improvements," he said.

The only project that might be slowed down by historic designation issues would be the toll road. Just to make sure that wouldn't happen, Hutchison simply exempted the toll road from federal law.

I said Johnson took a dive on this, because I spoke to her one day, and she got it: She clearly understood that Hutchison was pulling a fast one. But three days later she came out all in favor of it.

Just for grins, remember this: Congresswoman Johnson's principal source of personal income, aside form her government salary, is from airport concessions that are now under attack by Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. If she were to break with Hutchison over this rider issue, it would be a major slap in the face to Leppert, whose political career was built on his support of the toll road. So at a time when Johnson needs Leppert to get off her case anyway, the good congresswoman may not feel she has much wriggle room on toll road-related questions.

Anyway, she never would call me back (I had to use a trick to talk to her the first time), but she went to Shawn Williams of DallasSouthNews to rebut my column saying she had sold out on flood safety.

Johnson gave Williams the Hutchison line about historic designation: "Determining if the levees are historical would take an additional two years," she said. "This is time the City doesn't have if it wants to reach its deadline to avoid mandatory flood insurance for Dallas residents. It's also an expense I don't want put on my constituents."

According to what he published, Williams asked not one challenging question of the congresswoman. He published her words as if they were gospel that could not be challenged. So basically DallasSouthNews serves the function here of a political billboard.

If I could design a real billboard for Johnson, it would say: "Eddie Bernice Johnson supports strong flood safety for Southern Dallas - unless it gets in the way of her personal income from airport concessions."

And if I could do a slogan for DallasSouthNews, it would be, "All the stuff that somebody couldn't get published anywhere else."

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