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Keith Hightower, Bill Clinton's younger brother

Appropriate to yesterday's posting, a little musing is in order.

Keith Hightower rose to Shreveport political prominence as Bill Clinton geared up his run for the White House, leading many observers then and since to remark upon a physical similarity between the two. That’s not all they share: they approach political conflict in a way which make both very divisive individuals in government.

Within a couple of years as president, Clinton got into real trouble, presiding over a disastrous 1994 midterm election as he let his liberal, big government instincts get the better of his natural inclination to acquire power. In order to resurrect himself to win reelection, he did two things, submit to the Republican Congress on some issues (tax cuts, balanced budget, welfare reform) but on others to call them names and disparage them every chance possible even if the criticisms had no truth to them. Thus, when the GOP tried to curtail the rate of growth of government spending, Clinton and the Democrats, aided by a willing media, called these “cuts” in government spending. As a result, the Republicans were said to want to starve people, to throw old people out on the street, to despoil the environment, etc., when none of it had any basis in reality whatsoever.

It appears that Mayor Hightower takes a similar tack when it comes to opponents of his administration’s actions. The obvious example is on the convention center hotel issue. In a recent interview, he called opponents either bitter about being unemployed in city government (an apparent jibe at Fax-Net Update editor and former official in the previous mayoral administration Lou Burnett), or opposing only for partisan purposes (seemingly insulting the three Shreveport City Council Republicans), and the rest because they have “miserable” lives. A related explanation he often has given for opposition is that those against it are against “progress.” Still another is that opponents are “desperate” because they have private business interests at heart.

None of these psychoanalytic explanations acknowledges the real and compelling reasons why not to put taxpayers on the hook for $52 million or thereabouts:

  • No private firm believed the project feasible enough to risk its own capital. At first, Hightower explained this away by saying a Tax Incremental Financing district would bring costs low enough to make it profitable. When state lawmakers were so skeptical of the idea that they refused to create legislation to enable the TIF, Hightower said government still could do it profitably because of taxes not needing to be paid on it. Since Caddo Assessor Charles Hennington questioned whether the property would be exempt, Hightower has said nothing on the matter.
  • No feasibility study ever has shown the venture to be profitable. The closest thing to one, by the Louisiana Tech College of Administration and Business Economic Research Division, explicitly showed it would not be. But for his presentation to the state’s Bond Commission to get bonds issued for the project, Hightower took this study and on the fly changed numbers around in a way its authors did not endorse, in order to win approval.
  • Riverboat gambling (oops, “gaming”; the state is supposed to suppress gambling) revenues have fallen by over 10 percent this January compared to January, 2004, in this area as a direct result of competition to the west, and Texas continues to make noises about legalizing even more gambling. This aspect would be the linchpin of attracting convention business to Shreveport.
  • The convention industry itself is in decline as cost and travel concerns plus a rapidly-growing glut of facilities leave supply growing much faster than demand.
  • As a still-pending lawsuit points out, there is a genuine legal question whether the $12 million the state has thrown in can be used for building a hotel.

Despite being unable to satisfactorily address any of these concerns, check out the rhetoric used by Hightower referring to these in the latest newsletter he released:

MORE GOOD NEWS: We will be moving forward with the Convention Center Hotel project and begin selling the bonds within the next month in order to start construction in the spring.

The Louisiana State Bond Commission rejected Senator Max Malone’s request to rescind its approval of the sale of $40 million in revenue bonds and once again overwhelmingly affirmed the construction of our Convention Center Hotel with an 11 – 2 vote. Representatives Mike Powell and Wayne Waddell joined Senator Malone is his opposition, but their testimony was unconvincing to State Treasurer John Kennedy and the Bond Commission. You can rest assured that as your mayor I will be in Baton Rouge again if necessary, to fight any attempt by Senator Malone or Representative Powell to take away any money from Shreveport.

Our goal with the convention center project has been to further enhance the economic development of Shreveport by increasing its marketability, thereby creating jobs and a better quality of life for its citizens. This administration has survived a desperate barrage of negative attacks and rumors that have been found over and over again to be baseless and without fact. There really were no surprises with the Naysayers, who were at first against the funding mechanism before they had ever seen what it was. Then after that hurdle they did not trust the study of the project and so they spent more tax-payer money to fund another study with their own chosen consultants. Their study came back with more positive numbers than the original study, again substantiating an even a greater reason for funding the hotel project.

With all of their claims being proven false, they now demand that revenue bonds be voted on by the public. You might find it interesting to know that these same Naysayers vote on Revenue Bonds for the funding of projects on a regular basis without the approval of the citizens.

One might conclude that these Naysayers find it more comfortable and politically less risky to play it safe rather than to have the courage and fortitude to creatively nurture economic plans and see them turn into a reality. We could celebrate this victory over those who sit back offering only criticism and roadblocks, with no real answers or positive solutions to the economic problems that we face. However harboring negative attitudes toward one another is not in the best interest of our city and we all have much to gain by moving our city forward and working together to solve the problems that we face.

Why doesn’t Hightower admit to the very obvious legitimacy of these, instead seeking to denigrate the messengers who cast doubt on his plans? Logically, the only reason could be that Hightower himself cannot defend his own proposal, and therefore he must have other motives for trying to force this through over public opposition (as captured in a poll a couple of months ago) – motives it has been suggested that lie in his desire for higher elective office and to provide preferments and patronage to his supporters. Which is nothing close to the enlightened governance that Shreveport deserves.

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