For the Current’s purposes, the word — now the title of a news column we’re initiating here before your very eyes (superstitiously, on this day of love, so please be this column’s Valentine) — we’re embracing “queque” in its literal translation: “what’s what.”
Following up on last week’s look into the shady dealings of Trans-Texas Corridor profiteers (“Bread Between the Lines,” February 7-13), the Queque decided to investigate the claim made by Terri Hall of the anti-TTC group San Antonio Toll Party to World Net Daily that “there is not a single politician in our entire Bexar County delegation that has not taken money from H. B. Zachry, Jr.”
First the Queque expanded the parameters beyond Heebee Z to include anyone from the Zachry clan (David, J.P., John B.) or attached to the Zachry Corporation (e.g. vice presidents Charles Ebrom and Murray Johnston). The toll-road cement will long be dry before the Queque runs every employee and every candidate through the campaign-finance search engines (TX: Tinyurl.com/bxvun, SA: Tinyurl.com/36d2yf), but it did immediately find someone to contradict Hall — Representative Joaquin Castro.
The SA Toll Party opposed Castro this past election, saying he supported tolls. They erected the infamous mock toll booth in District 125, which they say they have videotape of Castro’s campaign worker Leticia Cantu vandalizing. Nevertheless, by our research, Castro hasn’t accepted a
single, fat Zachry dime. He now sits on Border & International Affairs as well as Business & Industry, both of which oughta interest at least one Zachry.
“I’ve never approached them, and they’ve never approached me,” Castro said. “I’d gotten word back that they were displeased I was against the toll road on Bandera Road, but I never spoke to them directly.”
It looks like the Zachrys bet on the wrong Young Hispanic Lawmaker: San Antonio’s other YHL, Representative Mike “Captain Recess” Villarreal, has accepted at least $5,900 from the Zachrys since 2000. That’s nearly five times as much as Representative Frank Corte, Jr., the usual ass to which the SA Toll Party pins the tail.
“Wow. Really? More than Frank Corte?” Villarreal said. He claims that no Zachry has ever visited him or called him to ask for favors.
No surprise there. Villarreal got spanked for not supporting Speaker Tom Craddick and was sent to two lesser committees where he’ll debate pensions and local taxes. What good could he actually do the Zachrys? Most of his bills are about children: from protecting recess (see “Sweeps Session,” January 3-9) to regulating “lactation consultants.” Perhaps that’s what the Zachrys like: a politician who will stay out of the TTC debate.
Nevertheless, Villarreal’s statement for the record: “I don’t believe that roads built by tax dollars should be converted to toll roads.”
The Queque will always remember February 2007 as the month Texas energy users lost their innocence. The Texas Clean Sky Coalition launched an ad campaign that appealed to a hatred of familicide, asking burning coal-related questions like, “Woud you bathe your child in coal?” or “Sprinkle mercury, arsenic, and lead on your husband’s cereal?”
The coalition breathed fire into a “Stop the Coal Rush” rally at the state capitol last Sunday, to halt Texas’s effort to fast-track 18 new coal plants before the feds buy into this month’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report — which after 17 years of hedging found a connection between humans and Global Warming (conveniently, a day or so after Al Gore got nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize). The Department of Public Safety estimates 2,100 coal-plant protesters enjoyed a “Ring of Fire” singalong with Austin folk artist Frank Meyer.
A few days earlier, the Environmental Integrity Project released a Who’s Who of the top U.S. dirty refineries, and six Texas plants won! As usual, low-income Texans of color lose, said Suzie Canales of Corpus Christi’s Citizens for Environmental Justice. Thanks to “Refinery Row,” the 10-mile stretch of spewage along I-37, the industry-friendly TCEQ, and the heads-up-their-asses EPA, her city has birth defects at an 84-percent higher rate than most other parts of the state, a report last summer said. Not surprisingly, Corpus is home to the Number Three (Koch Industries’ Flint Hills) and Number Seven (Valero) national refineries dubbed dirtier than a crack-house mattress. “I believe Citgo would be on there, too, but they’re under federal indictment for not reporting benzene
levels,” Canales said.
In other crude news, last week an Omaha gas station started slinging what it calls Terror-Free Oil to break the nation’s dependence on “companies that finance terrorism by importing oil from the Middle East.” Using 2005 statistics from the Energy Information Agency that sources companies’ oil providers, the Cornhuskers inked Valero, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Phillips 66, BP, Conoco, and Tesoro off their supply list. Venezuela’s state oil company, Citgo, gets nixed not because of any Middle-East alliance, but because Hugo Chavez is a name caller. Patriots are basically left with Utah’s Flying J.
The whispered grumbles among aides and lobbyists at the state capitol isn’t about the right-wing reaction to the HPV vaccine or the coming brouhaha over school vouchers. It’s not even about Governor Perry’s chief political consultant calling Texas bloggers “retarded” last week. They’re venting about lunch, and how the Capitol Grill, the only cafeteria at the Capitol, is price-gouging the menial laborers of the law-making industry.
For example: According to an aide in Representative David Leibowitz’s office `Leibowitz is the uncle of a regular Current contributor, Vince Leibowitz`, a bottle of his favorite iced tea used to be $1.50. Now it’s $1.89. According to another aide, the cost of the 10-inch pancake jumped from 75 cents to $1.60. And where have the breakfast migas gone? What happened to vegan burgers?
Rumors of a boycott abound, with one aide in Representative Stephen Frost’s office planning to file a formal complaint against RK Group, the San Antonio-based catering company that manages the Capitol Grill, if prices don’t drop by the end of the legislative session.
RK Group is San Antonio matriarch Rosemary Kowalski’s 160-employee “full-service catering and comprehensive event logistics” company that evolved from Lode Ben’s Diner, a beer ’n’ barbecue joint built near St. Mary’s University in ’46. In 1968 they nabbed most of the catering contracts at HemisFair and in 1972 won the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center contract, which they’ve held ever since. In September, the San Antonio City Council awarded RK Group the concession stand contracts at the City’s six golf courses. Perhaps not coincidentally, all 10 current councilmembers and Mayor Phil Hardberger took money from Kowalski: a grand total of $11,400 since 2005.
Money like that has to come from somewhere. Call it the Capitol Tea & Pancake Tax.
The Queque noticed that while Mayor Hardberger was calling Sheryl Sculley the “Tim Duncan of city managers” in his State of the City address on January 27, the U.S. Conference of Mayors was wrapping up its 75th winter meeting without him. Hardberger, the “Beno Udrih of mayors,” discontinued his $39,000 membership last year. The Queque may think it’s parochial for the Number 7 most populous city in America to pass up the chance to cross-fertilize ideas on affordable housing, poverty, and climate protection with salty peers with populations over 30,000 (including Austin Mayor Will Wynn, the cosmopolitan chair of the conference’s energy committee). After all, cities are on the frontlines of the Global Warming issue, as Trenton, New Jersey, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer said. The U.S Conference of Mayors even had the cojones to sign an agreement in 2005 that mirrors the emissions-reduction targets outlined in the Kyoto Protocol (that the Bush administration still rejects).
Hardberger spokesman J.J. Saulino said the conference dues were a waste of tax dollars. “It’s the view of this mayor that he should be primarily concerned with San Antonio and not national issues.” Don’t worry free-marketeers, that doesn’t mean the mayor will stop thinking international and cancel his trade missions to Taiwan and Mexico.
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