Page 7


FEATURE / Stealing Home BY ROBERT BRYCE George W Bush loves baseball. And why not? After all baseball has been very good to the governor. PR and political maneuvering, he and his partners have persuaded a city and the state to directly have also successfully used the power of government to take land from other private citizens so it could be used for their own private purposes. y es, baseball has been very good to Bush. Moreover, the biggest deal Bush has ever done, the career-shaping transaction he boasted of on the campaign trailthe planning, funding and construction of the Texas Rangers’ Ballpark at Arlingtonhas been largely ignored by the national media as they rush to paint Bush’s presidential portrait. Yet whether the public interest issue is taxes, size of government, property rights, or public subsidies of private sports ventures, Bush’s personal ownership interest in the Texas Rangers baseball team has been wildly at odds with his publicly declared positions on those issues. And ongoing litigation over the Ballpark deal has revealed documents showing that beginning in 1990, the Rangers managementwhich included Bush as managing general partnerconspired to use the government’s power of eminent domain to further its private business interests. Since he took to the stump three and a half years ago to run for governor, Bush has railed against “big government.” On the very first day of his campaign, November 8, 1993, Bush told supporters in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas that “the best way to allocate resources in our society is through the market place. Not through a governing elite, not through red tape and over-regulation, not through some central bureaucracy.” But through the Arlington stadium deal, Bush, who owns 1.8 percent of the Rangers, has been personally enriched by using the “governing elite” and the “central bureaucracy” not only to confiscate land for private purposes, but to get a huge public subsidy for a stadium that generates profits for himself and the Texas Rangers. Though Bush’s present ownership percentage in the team is relatively small, the asset represents a large part of his personal wealth; moreover, Bush’s deal with the team includes a provision that will almost certainly multiply his future ownership interest to 11 percent. Briefly, here’s what happened on the Ballpark deal. Bush and his partners in the Rangers convinced Arlington officials to: pass a half cent sales tax to pay for 70 percent of the stadium; use the government’s powers of eminent domain to condemn land the Rangers couldn’t or didn’t want to buy on the open market; give the Rangers control over what happens in and around the stadium; allow the Rangers to buy the stadium \(which cost $191 million to finally, after twelve years as the sole occupant and primary beneficiary of the stadium project, the Rangers, a privately owned business, can take title to the most expensive stadium ever built in Texas for the $60 million worth of rent and upkeep they will have already paid the city. ince he became governor, Bush has not forgotten the Rangers. Although he put his stocks and other assets in a blind trust when he took office, he kept under his own control his ownership interest in the Rangers \(held through a company worth, that interest represents his single most valuable asset. According to his most recent financial disclosure filing with the Texas Ethics Commission, Bush’s limited partnership interest in the Rangers went into the blind trust in January of 1995. But he didn’t transfer his general partnership interest because, as he attempted to explain in a brief press conference at the Governor’s Mansion on April 11, that would have been an “unnecessary” change in ownership. And a change in ownership, he said, “would have required a vote of the baseball owners to do so. And it became unnecessary. We just didn’t think it was necessary to get that vote. Secondly, I own it. I mean, there’s no question I own it….So it’s not necessary.” \(It’s worth remembering here that the major league baseball ownNecessary or not, Bush’s ownership interest in the Rangers may yet prove an embarrassing entanglement. The Rangers are currently arguing with the City of Arlington and the Arlington Sports $4.98 million jury award to the Mathes family, which owned thirteen acres of land condemned in 1991 by the ASFDA and now covered primarily by parking lots used by stadium visitors. The jury’s award, made in May of last year, now stands at $7.2 million and is growing, with accumulated interest, at $1,800 per day. A related lawsuit, known as Ramshire N.V. vs. B/R Rangers Associates Ltd., filed in 1994 in Tarrant County against Bush and the other owners of the Rangers, could force the Governor to testify under oath about the events that led up to the stadium project. 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 9, 1997