Governing elite: The recent Supreme Court decision that allows
local governments to use eminent domain to evict property owners in order to
use their property for private development set off a howl on the Right.
To counter the ruling, Republicans in Congress are working on legislation that
would cut off all federal funding to local governments who use eminent domain
to evict property owners.
The president may have a hard time keeping a straight face when he signs the
bill, however. In his past life as a baseball team owner, Mr. Bush profited
from exactly this sort of eminent domain eviction - to the tune of $14.3 million.
The story was first rerported by Texas reporter Robert
Brice in May 1997, late in Bush’s first term as governor of Texas:
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 of 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 construct)
for just $60 million;
Bush and company went into action on the stadium in late in 1989, when Bush’s
father was still vice president and as the project was getting off the ground
he became president. The younger Bush’s company exercised its considerable
political clout and used the Texas state government to take the property for
the stadium involuntarily from its rightful owners
In April of 1991, the Rangers shepherded through the Legislature a bill [that]
would create the Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority, a quasi-governmental
entity endowed with the power of eminent domain. Shortly after the bill was
signed into law by former Governor Ann Richards, three parcels of land located
near the stadium, nearly thirteen acres in all, were condemned by the ASFDA.
The land was owned by … the heirs of television magnate Curtis Mathes.
Among court documents is an unsigned Rangers memo by a team representative,
discussing the history of the Mathes tracts. The representative notes that
in his first contact with the Mathes family concerning the land, on November
6, 1990, “I was not well received.” The memo goes on to say that
the ASFDA’s appraiser assigned the land a value of $3.16 per square
foot, for a total value of $1.515 million. “An offer was made by the
Authority at this price. This offer was rejected & the Sellers countered
with $2,835,000.00 for all three tracts, i.e.: $5.31 p.s.f.” In mid-December,
the ASFDA offered the Mathes heirs just $817,220 for the three tracts, far
below even what the ASFDA’s first appraiser had suggested. The Mathes
family refused to sell, and the ASFDA seized the land through eminent domain.
Glenn Sodd, a Corsicana attorney who represents the Mathes family, says he
has found little evidence that Bush was directly involved in the decisions
to condemn the property for the stadium. But he adds, “What happened
to my folks was pretty audacious. It was the first time in Texas history
that the power of eminent domain has been used to assist a private organization
like a baseball team.”
[In May 1996], a Tarrant County jury found that the sports authority’s
offer of $817,220 for the Mathes property was too low, and it awarded the
Mathes heirs $4.98 million, plus accumulated interest. For the past year,
the city of Arlington and the Rangers have been arguing over who will pay
his interest in the Rangers in 1998 for $14.9 million. He had invested
a total of $606,302.27 [in 1989] and was one of two managing partners.
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