POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE Boxes sprawl, Dems stall ATTACK OF THE SUPERCENTERS In the past six months in Texas at least 25 Wal-Mart SuperCentersthe bigger versions of the Arkansas company’s standard large storeshave opened their doors, bringing the state’s total to 180. The SuperCenters are usually upwards of 200,000 square feet and offer groceries and services in addition to the usual Wal-Mart fare of cheap imports. Wal-Mart has recently stepped up its campaign of SuperCenter domination in the Lone Star State. But in communities as disparate tiny Panhandle town of Canyon, the corporate behemoth is encountering resistance. Despite the SuperCenters’ streamlined convenience, Texans are rising up against them for aesthetic, economic, and ecological reasons. Lakeway, Houston, and Austin are just a few places where citizens have gone to battle with the biggest box in the past year, and won. In Austin, a coalition of neighborhood groups, environmentalists, activists, and even a few local developers successfully pressured the company into canceling plans for one SuperCenter proposed in the southwestern quadrant of the city, over the Edwards Aquifer, the sole water source for more than 50,000 people. However, the fight isn’t over yet: On November 20, the owner of the property Wal-Mart planned to purchase for its Aquifer big-box filed suit against the city and developer Stratus Properties, which backed the antiSuperCenter campaign. Anti-SuperCenter Austinites enjoy some sway with eco-conscious members of the Austin City Council, which has commissioned a study to determine the economic and environmental impacts of local big-box development. Even in communities that lack organized opposition against Wal-Mart, citizens are rallying. Residents of Canyon, a small town located 30 miles south of Amarillo and the home of West Texas A&M University, have two separate suits against the Canyon City Commission, claiming that the five-member body has sidestepped democracy and its own rules for Wal-Mart’s benefit. In Fehr and Goss v. City of Canyon, currently on appeal \(the city disputed the 47th District Court’s determination that the case was in the court’s that the Canyon city clerk refused to deliver to commissioners a valid citizens’ petition requesting a referendum on the SuperCenter, as required by the city charter. And resident Mike McBroom, who lives a quarter-mile from the proposed site, argues in his suit that the city is violating its own comprehensive plan by approving big-box retail development next to an elementary school. His case goes to trial November 24. “I think the [Canyon] commissioners have been sold a bill of goods,” asserts Amarillo Attorney John Mozola, who represents both sets of plaintiffs. “They desperately want the tax money [the SuperCenter] will generate, and that has clouded their judgment.” Recently Wal-Mart announced plans to build a SuperCenter in Pampa, and possibly another in Hereford; Amarillo already has two with two more underway, and one in Dumas is already under construction. With so many SuperCenters vying for business in the sparsely populated Panhandle, Wal-Mart’s promise that the stores will be a regional draw for sales tax revenue is ringing false for towns like Canyon. Of course, once established, it’s too late. The SuperCenter quickly snuffs out local businesses. Austin political consultant Mike Blizzard, who helped organize the grassroots campaign against the big-box over the Edwards Aquifer, has visions of a diverse coalition of Texans working to halt the Wal-Mart blitzkrieg. And rumors are circulating that hardware companies, pharmacies, and other affected business interests are planning to coordinate against Wal-Mart on a statewide basis. Taking a proactive approach against WalMart might prove difficult for citizens hoping to beat SuperCenter proposals still in gestation, since company representatives aren’t forthcoming with details about future plans. Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. keeps no lists of proposed stores, contends spokeswoman Daphne Moore, who has represented the company at many public forums and meetings during its recent Texpansion. “If you start naming locations in Texas, I can tell you whether we’re opening a store there or not,” she says. Get out the map. SOFT MONEY HARDBALL An unusually contentious U.S. House Administration Committee hearing ended November 20th with the panel authority to subpoena the leaders of several Democratic fundraising groups. The committee convened to question the chiefs of a handful of recently formed organizations created under Section 527 of the tax code that intend to raise soft money to influence federal elections. Ney said he called the hearing to examine whether the groups were attempting to evade the soft-money restrictions imposed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Ney asked nine witnesses to give testimony, but the six invited DemocratsPartnership for America’s Families CEO Steve Rosenthal, Democratic Senate Majority Fund Executive Director Marc Farinella, New House PAC head Howard Wolfson, America Votes President Cecile Richards, America Coming Together President Ellen Malcolm, and Voices for Working Families’ former Chairman Gerald McEnteedid not appear. Although the committee gave Ney the authority to issue subpoenas to those six individuals, Ney spokesman Brian Walsh said after the hearing that the chairman had not yet decided whether or when to do so. “We’re going to take some time and look at this,” said Walsh. Despite the fact that the Democratic fundraisers had already informed the House Administration panel that they would not show up, the committee still made a point of putting their name cards in front of empty chairs at the witness table. Ney said those witnesses “have chosen to thumb their nose at the Committee on House Administration” and that their behavior “proved [BCRA] doesn’t ban soft money despite incessant complaints by its supporters to the contrary.” But House Administration ranking member 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 12/5/03
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