Texas Hold ’em

Local politics is like Texas Hold ’em. The players won’t show you all their cards, so you look at what’s on the table and try to figure it out.

What makes the local political version of Texas Hold ’em so interesting is that you don’t even know who is sitting at the table. There are players who don’t even admit that they’re in the game.

The puppet masters. The money men. People who have a stake in the game, but don’t want to own up to it. (I would like to take my mulligan and strike these remarks from the record, your honor.)

If we were really playing poker you’d call it a rigged game.

So what’s with the downtown arena?

People sitting at the table already told us that a downtown arena would be stupid without an anchor tenant.

This is from a 2011 story by David Crowder in the El Paso Inc.:

Consultants had advised [a downtown arena] would absolutely need an anchor tenant to work, such as a Dallas Cowboys arena football team, and a location that wouldn’t require evicting residents or significant opposition from area property owners.

And District 8 Representative Cortney Niland, right there in the twilight of Council chambers, during public comment about the arena, let slip that the arena was for D-League basketball.

Let me bring another thread into this tangle of intrigue.

MountainStar Sports Group. The de facto owners of the ballpark.

Yeah, I know that the City is the legal owner of the ballpark, but that’s just so MountainStar won’t have to pay any taxes on the property. For them, tax money is a one-way street, and it’s inbound.

But they didn’t call themselves, MountainStar Baseball Enterprises. Not El Paso Baseball Group.

MountainStar SPORTS group.

Sports. Plural. As in more than one.

Given the paucity of evidence, and the limited number of potential players, I’ve got to think that MountainStar Sports Group has their thumb on the scale. Like they’ve had their thumb on the scale since 2012, and before.

Advocates for the arena, and before, the ballpark, and before that, the Plaza Theatre and Union Plaza and every other pipe dream foisted on the taxpayers since forever said our sacrifice was for the greater good. That investments in downtown would somehow, through some convoluted and arcane economic development process, create more commercial properties which would pay more taxes and relieve the burden on homeowners.

(And then what? Government will give homeowners rebates? Or will the bigger pie just get eaten by a bigger government?)

Peculiarly, though, to entice commercial enterprises to open, City Council gives generous tax incentives, or removes properties from the tax rolls outright.

At the risk of stating the heretically obvious, let me remind you that the world is changing. Global warming. Self-driving cars. The collapse of the oil-driven economy. The death of print, and the rise of new media. It’s a new game out there, and we’re using an old playbook that never won any games even when it was current.

When are we going to see a return on all these well-intentioned investments? When will we have poured enough tax money into downtown that downtown will start to pay us back?

Good intentions are fine, but they can’t compete with results.

They say that every poker game has a sucker. And if you look around the table, and you can’t pick the sucker, it’s you.

Well, look around the table, and tell me who the sucker is.


  1. No disagreement from this side of the table, man. I also suspect Mountain Star to be the main beneficiary of this latest ripoff of the El Paso taxpayers. And, I see no way to avoid it, since City Council, and any other controllers have made it plain that they are not interested in anyone’s opinion or input or lack of enthusiasm. Just like we were called negative thinkers, and unimaginary, and old-fashioned when we spoke out against the tearing down of City Hall, or the building of that damn ball park, anyone opposed to this latest pipe dream has no voice.

  2. Man you naysayers got it down pat. “Rigged, money Men, Tax avoidance, City Hall, Ball Park, Puppet Masters!” The best one was “never won any games”. “The sky is falling” is the only one missing. I, for one see my El Paso Downtown finally reborn, vibrant, beautiful. Are we there completely? Hell no, of course not. We need more and more people (with dollars to spend) living downtown. That’s on the way with all the non taxpayer, private investment condos/hotels/apartments being built. I know you’all mean well but so did the thousands of naysayers that had kept El Paso down for decades. Do we need an arena? Do we need a tree?

    1. You wanna believe, Henry, and that’s cool. But I’m not sure what it is we’re going for, so I don’t know if it’s working or not.

      What are we going for, Henry? Economic development? Disneyland? The fuckers keep sticking their hands in your pockets, and you think they’re tickling you. You like it.

      Just seems to me like we’re spending a lot of money and not getting a lot for it. But I don’t know what it is we’re supposed to be getting, so I don’t know if we’re getting it or not.

      Is it just entertainment? Is everyone in El Paso paying for the entertainment of the sports fans?

      Tell me where we’re trying to go so I can have opinion about how to get there.

      Otherwise I just gotta guess.

    2. You know who else was a naysayer? Thomas Jefferson. That guy who stood in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square. Fidel Castro was a naysayer, and so were all those political dissidents he threw in prison.

      If you could never be a naysayer, you’re a sheep.

      And sheep is the nice word for it.

      1. Wow, now you’re comparing NIMN’s (Not In My Neighborhood) and Anti Growth/Progress Trolls to Historical figures that risked their lives on principle? And come on Rich, your anger at being called out is showing. Castro was a Naysayer and the people he imprisoned were also naysayers? That’s a redundancy. You are a much better writer and communicator then I will ever be but that was a bad one. And as for me being a sheep or worse, well, I’m actually something else: I’m YOUR naysayer. I would think that you would welcome some discourse instead of surrounding yourself with sycophants.

        1. I love it when you join the conversation, Henry.

          So are you claiming that the goal of the City’s recent follies is growth and progress?

          I’m saying that the changes that have happened around here recently are counterproductive. That higher taxes reduce the incentive for businesses to move here. That when we try to keep up with other cities, we’re not exploiting our Unique Selling Proposition.

          I’m not against growth and progress. I’m against stupid. No offense.

  3. I’m moving to a loft downtown…int he trolley route. I would not consider that 5 years ago….get it now richi boy. See you at the Tap when I can walk there for Nachos.. get it now?

    1. That’s good. You’ll be able to walk over to the Kentucky Club, too.

      Lemme know when you’ve moved in. I’ll bring you a plant.

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