U.S. Rep. John Culberson likes to say that he is a member of the tea party, but he acts more like a member of the Washington D.C. party, using federal authority to control what should be local decisions.
Last week, as he has for the past two years, Culberson added a section to the federal transportation spending bill that would prevent Metro from using federal funds to help build rail along Richmond Avenue.
This is the sort of strategy you see from uber-liberals like former U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, who also manipulated federal funding to prevent Los Angeles from building mass transit through his wealthy district.
Voters elect federal representatives to set a broad agenda and address national governance, within the limits of the Constitution. When they do get involved in local issues, it should be for a clear-cut case of supporting a district. The opposition to rail on Richmond is anything but clear, and these sorts of municipal policy fights should be decided where local voices can be best heard - in local government.
Not every congressman is like Culberson. His Republican colleague, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, serves as a fine example of a politician who practices what he preaches when it comes to federalism. On the House floor, Poe argued that rail on Richmond, which would partly be in his district, should be decided at the local level.
"Don't let Congress come in and overrule the will of the people," Poe said in that debate with Culberson. The former judge also pointed out that blocking the funds would not save any money, nor reduce the national debt, but merely send federal dollars to another city.
Of all the planned inner-loop routes, rail on Richmond makes the most sense. Metro's proposed University Line along that path would connect a dense corridor of employment centers, stretching from downtown to the Galleria area via Greenway Plaza. There is admittedly little room in the budget for this route anytime soon. Depending on how the upcoming bus rapid transit system works in the Galleria area, Metro may even eye an alternative to rail for the Richmond route.
If Culberson wants to be deeply involved in mass transit decision-making, then perhaps he should run for local office or seek appointment to the Metro board. If he wants to help Metro from Washington, then he could send down the federal dollars necessary to build elevated rail. But by trying to interfere far away from the ongoing debate, Culberson shows that he cares more about his D.C. image than local needs.