Legislators: Wright Fight May Take Years

Opinions on the Wright Amendment may vary widely among North Texas members of Congress, but most agreed on one thing Monday: It could be years before the issue is resolved.

Eight members of the North Texas congressional delegation discussed the issue at a Dallas Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, who has co-sponsored a bill in the House to overturn the amendment, acknowledged that it will be a challenge.

"It could be months to years" before progress is made, he said.

Meanwhile, Wright supporter Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, vowed to use his position as head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to halt any attempt to eliminate the restrictions at Love Field.

The Wright Amendment, a 1979 law designed to protect then-fledgling Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, limits flights out of Love to cities in Texas, adjacent states, Mississippi, Kansas and Alabama.

"Any bill that tries to repeal will go through the committee I chair," he said. "We'll look at it very hard."

Others urged all parties to work toward a compromise.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is lobbying to have the amendment overturned, while D/FW Airport and Fort Worth-based American Airlines are fighting to keep it in place.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, who said last week that she is opposed to repeal, said she is working to bring the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth together to discuss the issue.

Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, said he would like to see a congressional hearing on the amendment.

"I'd like to have more testimony," he said.

Although feelings about the Wright Amendment debate often run strong, lawmakers took pains to be cordial Monday.

"We all look at the same data, and sometimes we just come to a different conclusion," Hensarling said.

The strongest response from the audience came when Sam Johnson, R-Plano, stated simply that "I'm for free Love" -- similar to the "set Love free" mantra adopted by Southwest.

Many in the crowd broke into applause.

But Barton countered moments later that "free Love got this country into a lot of trouble in the '60s" and warned that lifting the restrictions could damage the regional economy.

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, said he believed that changes could be phased in over three to five years, which would minimize the impact on American Airlines and D/FW Airport.

"I want to make sure American is taken care of and Southwest is freed up," he said, and ultimately consumers will benefit.

Rep. Chet Edwards, D- Waco, said he was undecided on the issue. But he said that he could not think of any issue more important to North Texas "than the future viability of D/FW Airport."

And Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, who opposes repeal, said the future of the issue could depend on which congressional committees oversee the bills.

"This thing could take three days or it could take three years," he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press