Sunday, August 23, 2015

Politix Update: Scott Walker Is Against Big Government. Unless He's For It.

“It is a time when one is filled with vague longings. When one dreams of flight to peaceful islands in the remote solitudes of the sea, or folds his hands and says, ‘What is the use of struggling, and toiling and worrying anymore? Let us give it all up.' " ~ MARK TWAIN
One of the abiding ironies of the conservative Republican politicians who regularly rail against Big Government is that when Big Government furthers their own agendas, they're all for it no matter how much taxpayers will be soaked. 
Scott Walker is merely the latest in a long line of such hypocrites, in his case because of the big-league issue of the state of Wisconsin subsidizing construction of a new basketball arena to the tune of $250 million to keep the Milwaukee Bucks from leaving town.  Walker, of course, merrily bought into what is in every respect an awful deal for everyone but the team's billionaire owners, but in no respect more than the fact $250 million is exactly the amount of money Walker stripped from the budget of the prestigious University of Wisconsin system in the service of . . . you guessed it, scaling back Big Government.
Let's be clear from the jump that the presidential wannabe and Tea Party darling was not a reluctant signatory to the deal.  No one held a loaded round of cheese to his head.  He was the deal's architect despite his frequent and pious declarations of fiscal conservatism.  Let's also be clear that government-funded sports stadium deals, while making local chambers of commerce and sports fans warm and fuzzy, always are bad for the people who matter most -- taxpayers, especially those who are poor and struggling and can ill afford paying for rich peoples' playthings. 
The shakedown began after two New York City hedge fund owners purchased the Bucks, a National Basketball League team that has pretty much sucked since the early 1990s.  Following a now well-worn script in which local governments are rolled and taxpayers fleeced, the new owners threatened to move the Bucks to Las Vegas or Seattle or Kathmandu.  Someplace.  Anyplace. Because the place didn't really matter.  Scaring the bejesus out of city fathers did matter, and the threat worked like a charm.
It also didn't particularly matter that Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry, the hedge fund bigs, have been Democratic donors and Lasry's hedge fund once employed Bill and Hillary Clinton's daughter, Chelsea.  In an era of deeply divided partisan sympathies, party affiliation isn't of concern when it comes to professional sports teams and the cities that support them, witness the willingness of prominent Wisconsin Republicans to pony up for minority shares of the Bucks, including developer Jon Hammes, who is national finance co-chairman for Walker's presidential campaign.
The price of the blackmail, after much bobbing and weaving between owners and government types, was set at $250 million, or half of the estimated cost of a new arena.  
"Nowhere has the scam worked so brilliantly as it has in Milwaukee," wrote Charles P. Pierce at Grantland"Having largely succeeded in rolling back more than a century of progressive government in a state where progressive government was long an institution, and having been elected three times in five years, Walker was gearing up for his presidential run."
It's not that the 19,000-seat Bradley Center, where the Bucks now play, is a shambles.  It was considered a premier venue when it opened in 1988, but just isn't up-to-the-minute state-of-the-art, you know, with all the bells and whistles and amenities for the private box with concierge service crowd.  Besides which, the NBA says that a new arena is necessary if the Bucks, as a small market team, are to remain competitive. Or else.
And so plans are underway for a new 17,000-seat arena (although the Bucks are currently 27th in the 30-team NBA in attendance) that will be built in Milwaukee's downtown entertainment district.  Backers say they expect the arena will spur another $500 million in development by creating a bigger and better entertainment district that draws people to "live, work and play," transforming "what once was a 'dark concrete barrier' [into] a destination."
Adds the head of the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce, "It gives the city an identity and gives us something different than Des Moines."
All this hyperventilating does not stand up to scrutiny.
The Milwaukee market is ranked 35th by Nielsen in the already over-saturated U.S. sports market, yet it's getting a larger arena than Nielsen No. 2 Los Angeles.  The Bucks also have to compete with the NFL's Green Bay Packers, MLB's Milwaukee Brewers, the University of Wisconsin’s hugely successful football and basketball teams, and Marquette basketball, which plays in its own arena.  All tend to win more frequently and bring home more championships than the Bucks.
Beyond the size disconnect, in city after city where public funds have underwritten substantial portions of new arenas and stadiums, the predicted economic bonanza that will supposedly accrue to neighboring businesses -- existing and new -- has proven to be illusory, something that Milwaukee's own Legislative Reference Bureau concluded in a widely ignored report.  Visitors just don't spend enough money because tickets, concession purchases and such come out of family budgets and not thin air.  Besides which, economic impact is not the same as tax revenue, and the public portion of the arena is to be paid for by . . . get this, taxes on pro athletes, which Walker said "will fill local coffers" when he signed the bill to subsidize the arena. 
(There are rare exceptions to when politicians don't roll over for billionaires like Walker so readily has.  In Boston, public pressure saved venerable Fenway Park from the wrecking ball, forced the owner of the New England Patriots to build a new stadium with pretty much his own money, and recently prompted the city to tell the U.S. Olympic Committee and influential local backers to stick their bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics where the sun don't shine.)
To add insult to injury, Milwaukee city officials, who took a back seat to Walker from the outset, asked the billionaire owners to sign an ironclad agreement not to move the team for the 30-year life of the lease on the new arena.  The owners said no.  And a proposal that the bond issue for the new arena include money to fix Milwaukee's decrepit public playing fields was turned down as impractical.
"In this new Gilded Age, nothing should surprise us anymore," concludes Pierce.  "In Wisconsin, where Walker is moving heaven and earth to get a couple of Democratic sugar daddies a new playpen, his campaign named one Michael Grebe to be its chairman. Grebe's day job is as chairman and CEO of the Bradley Foundation, founded with the same money that once built the Bradley Center, which is obsolete because other money says so. Mark Twain was right. Those peaceful islands look very good right now." 
While it has nothing directly to do with the Milwaukee arena deal, Scott Walker's standing in the presidential race is falling faster than a Kobe Bryant jump shot.  There is an indirect connection: As the deal showed, Walker is a phony of the first water, and he's getting drowned by the wake from the boat skippered by the biggest phony of all -- Donald the Trump.
Walker once had a comfortable lead in Iowa, and he must win the first-in-the-nation Republican caucus there if he is going to stay afloat, because if he can't win in the Midwest then he can't win, period.  So he is dealing with his crisis not by doubling down on emphasizing his strengths, because he doesn't have any, but by trying to out trump Trump, which makes one wonder whether Walker may be even dumber than Sarah Palin. 
The Wisconsin governator also has promised his supporters to be more unscripted.  In other words, to try to stop acting like the Tea Party robot he is.  That will take some doing, because as empty suits go, Walker is as hollow as a rotted out tree trunk.
Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat are freshman members of the Michigan House of Representatives and Tea Partiers.  Both are married, but not to each other, so when it was discovered they were engaging in hanky-panky, they did what any self-respecting Republican would do.  They first denied it and then used their political offices to try to cover it up.
When that didn't work, Courser took to Facebook, where he called upon the Scripture to claim that he's the victim and we should all feel sorry for him. 
When that didn't work either, he directed his staff to "send a fake and salacious email about himself to Republican operatives, alleging that the lawmaker had been caught having sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub," as a leaked memo revealed, because then no one would believe he and Gamrat were having an affair.
And how did the Michigan Tea Party react?
"We normally open our meetings with a prayer anyways," explained Tea Party organizer Gene Clem, "So we’ll make sure that we remember them and their families in our prayers."

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click here  for an index of previous Politix Updates.



Ron Beasley said...

When the owner of the Portland Trailblazers came to the city of Portland to say he needed a new venue they told him then build it. He did, although the city did give him some tax breaks and used taxpayer funds for some infrastructure improvements. It has proved to be a real money maker for him. The Trailblazer games always sell out as do the concerts that are held there. Portland has no MLBB or NFL team because the voters have rejected bond measures to build venues. The city is no worse off as near as I can tell. We still have Nike world headquarters and over half of the Intel employees in the world.

Alan Muller said...

Multiple stadium scams are going down in Minnesota. The pols, who are mostly Dems of a purportedly lefty persuasion, fall all over themselves to give away the store to fat-cat sports-team owners. I presume the basic political dynamic is that the pols think there are more "sports fans" than there are people who care about sound government.