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All Politics...

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by Jeff, Jul 23, 2000.

  1. Jeff

    Jeff Clutch Crew

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    From Julie Mason, the Chronicle political columnist...

    Four power-people considered pivotal to revamped arena deal
    By JULIE MASON

    With the latest polls showing only 17 percent of Americans tuned into the presidential campaigns, it's no surprise the revived downtown arena campaign isn't exactly igniting local voters.

    But scratch the surface of the new deal and some fascinating little political gyrations emerge.

    The ever-bungling but somewhat improved Harris County-Houston Sports Authority has identified four people whose support is apparently crucial to their deal.

    One of them is not Harris County Republican Party Chairman Gary Polland -- widely credited with helping kill the deal last time.

    Instead, the four are Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, Aeros owner Chuck Watson and NFL expansion team owner Bob McNair.

    For the two politicians involved, their status as potential deal-breakers raises some intriguing and Macbethish scenarios.

    For one thing, the newly reconstituted arena deal has been crafted to address some of the gripes they had about the first one, by omitting such things as ticket tax and tax abatements.

    Under the new deal, the sports authority would sell bonds for the $175 million arena and pay them off with its hotel- and car-rental tax revenues and annual rent payment of $8.5 million from the Rockets.

    In order to sell their deal to voters, the sports authority is meeting with 30 public officials, including the all-crucial Bettencourt and Eckels, who are making it clear already that they are not so easily persuaded.

    Bettencourt's opposition to the arena referendum last time around made a populist Republican folk hero of the Star Trek-worshipping Aggie. One year later, he's an opinion leader.

    If he supports the deal this time around, Bettencourt stands to gain an advantage with the moneyed downtown operators backing the arena, whom he will have to tap for that big run for higher office he's furtively contemplating.

    But would supporting the arena sacrifice all the suburban credibility he's built up among the loyal GOP voters who so adore him?

    In order to score the Bettencourt vote, it sounds as if the sports authority will have to do some heavy wooing.

    "They presented me with the public documents from their last board meeting, effectively saying this was the deal," Bettencourt said. "Needless to say, that's not excessive documentation by any stretch. The whole deal is so foggy."

    For his part, Eckels was simply coy the last go-round, disappointing former pal Mayor Lee Brown by failing to support the arena deal, and irritating the local GOP leadership by never overtly opposing it.

    Unfortunately for the politically ambitious county judge, his neutrality managed to alienate both sides, rather than insulate him from criticism. Alas, all indications are that he is planning to go the same route on the new arena deal.

    Apparently unimpressed with his status as deal-maker or breaker, Eckels said the voters are going to have to decide for themselves whether the new deal is a better deal.

    "I don't think the deal will be about the personalities supporting it," Eckels said. "I think the public will look beyond what any of us say is a good deal or a bad deal, and make their own decisions."

    Key to the sports authority strategy is an effort to sideline or marginalize Polland, a man who under normal circumstances does not tolerate being ignored.

    Late last week, Polland was busy drafting a letter on the new arena deal, including a variety of demands and suggestions for improving it.

    Polland wants and needs Bettencourt and Eckels to co-sign the letter with him, but as of late Friday, it didn't look like either was inclined to do so.

    A breakup of the troika? Who knows. In previous outings on the arena and other issues, Eckels, Bettencourt and Polland formed a sort of tri-cornered, mutually dependent GOP task force.

    Also hovering in the wings of the arena deal is the city's big 2012 Olympic bid, which also could be up for approval on the November ballot.

    If there are people not on the payroll of that deal who are really enthusiastic about Houston's bid for the Olympics, they have yet to be heard from.

    Meanwhile, between the arena and Olympics camps there pervades a wary, hostile truce. If the tide of public opinion goes against the arena deal, Olympics boosters are concerned the spillover could kill their own deal with voters.

    Worse still for Olympics boosters is the fact that they don't even want their vote to be close. A referendum that passes with, say, 54 percent of the vote wouldn't exactly convey the gung-ho host city enthusiasm that Olympics officials are looking for.

    Maybe they should be talking with Bettencourt and Eckels.


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  2. Sakwitz

    Sakwitz Member

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    THEY KEEP SAYING THEY WANT EVERYONE ON BOARD.
    dO YOU REALLY THINK THAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?
    wHAT THEY NEEDED TO DO WAS DO WHAT THEY DID
    WITH ENRON FIELD AND JUST HAVE A GENERAL
    STATEMENT THAT IF IT DID NOT INCREASE TAXES
    WOULD YOU FAVOR BUILDING A NEW ARENA FOR THE
    ROCKETS, COMETS AND NHL FRANCHISE. IT SEEMS
    THAT WE COULD BE ON THE ROAD TO DISASTER IF
    WE THINK THAT EVERY ONE IS GOING TO BE ON
    BOARD. POLITICS STINKS.

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  3. Jeff

    Jeff Clutch Crew

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    I don't think they expect to get everyone in total support. I think the key is getting assurances that there will not be significant, organized opposition.

    It is one thing to oppose something and another to spend the money necessary to oppose something publically is another.

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  4. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    Jeff -- you're absolutely right. As long as those who philosophically or politically oppose this project keep quiet, it's beneficial to the arena supporters. If Watson and others keep their criticisms to themselves, the rallying cry against the arena will be felt less at the polls.

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  5. Sakwitz

    Sakwitz Member

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    from reading the Chronicle this morning- it
    appears they don't expect Pollard to agree.
    I was just worried because they kept saying
    they wanted everyone on board and I just do
    not see that happenng.

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  6. Jeff

    Jeff Clutch Crew

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    Postolos said this morning that one person would not prevent them from running but that they just want to be sure that they can pass a deal with or without the opposition.

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