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The Mosbagger Maneuver
For such a cute 'n' cuddly guy, Rob Mosbacher sure has some powerful enemies in the Texas Legislature. All it took was the circulation of a list of (mostly) big-name Houstonians supporting Mosbacher's mayoral candidacy -- including downtown stadia boys Ben Love and Ken Lay -- to get the long knives flashing in Austin last week.
The list added fuel to the poorest-kept secret strategy of the session -- a sub rosa attempt to slip a rider through on other legislation that would reinstate Houston's five-year residency requirement for mayor, thus sinking recent West U emigre Mosbacher's campaign ship before its official launch.
"He has gone out of his way to attack or offend just about every statewide leader I can think of," says Democratic state Representative Debra Danburg of Republican Mosbacher. "I don't understand the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde aspect of his politics."
The business types whose names appeared on the Mosbacher list, Danburg adds, "apparently ... think it's more important to be supporting a guy from West U for mayor of Houston than to worry about what the Legislature thinks."
Mosbacher managed to make an enemy for life when he engaged veteran politico Bob Bullock in a highly personalized battle for lieutenant governor in 1990. After losing that race, Mosbacher took up the cause of term limits and created Texans for Term Limits -- an undertaking that led him to campaign against House Speaker Pete Laney in Laney's Panhandle district last fall. Laney -- whom Mosbacher had targeted because of the speaker's death grip on term-limits legislation -- won re-election but reportedly still bears a very large grudge against the new Houston resident.
"They may have forgiven, but can they forget?" an Austin insider says of Laney's and Bullock's antipathy toward Mosbacher.
Even Governor George W. Bush is said to hold little love for Mosbacher -- even though Rob Jr.'s dad is a friend of Bush's father and served as commerce secretary under President Bush.
"Anything he feels toward Rob, it's [because of] his dad's relationship with Mosbacher's father," says one local elected Republican.
The GOP officeholder also observes that the Mosbachers have traditionally eschewed involvement in city politics and have rarely supported candidates in municipal races.
"They have a term in their family that they 'don't operate at that level,' " he says with a sarcastic twang. "If you look at his political supporters, what it gets down to is who his father has influence over or close friends of the family. He's one of these gold spoon guys."
Lobbyists working on Houston-related issues in Austin are amazed that Mosbacher's supporters would risk alienating the chiefs of both chambers of the Legislature, given the business leaders' interest in passage of a variety of measures affecting their interests -- from the downtown ballpark to home equity loans to utility deregulation.
After the list began circulating, Laney reportedly called Mayor Bob Lanier to get assurances he was not in Mosbacher's corner. Lanier, who won't deny that Laney touched base with him, suggests that the signers just didn't think through the implications of associating themselves with Mosbacher. "I don't know that any of them would have made the connection, and frankly, I don't know that I would," says Lanier.
State Senator John Whitmire claims that the participation of ballpark supporters such as Ned Holmes, Peter Coneway and Jim Edmonds in Mosbacher's campaign makes passage of stadium-funding legislation more difficult.
"Every day that they spend on another diversion called 'politics' or 'mayor's race' is cutting into our productive time," says Whitmire, who plans to hold hearings on the stadium legislation this week. "It's just amazing to me that some of these people I thought loved Houston so much are spending their time on political projects instead of trying to have the best session for Houston."
Whitmire's pronouncement strikes Holmes as more than slightly self-serving, given Whitmire's own barely concealed designs on the mayor's job. And while Holmes doesn't deny that Laney and Bullock harbor some ill will toward his candidate, he doubts it will amount to much: "I would certainly hope that they are above tying the issue on the stadium, or whatever else, to who may or may not be a mayoral candidate of Houston. Surely they're above that."
Mosbacher himself isn't eager to discuss the low regard Bullock and Laney have for him, but suggests that Lanier's close relations with the two will suffice to advance the city's legislative agenda.
"We're organizing and moving ahead," Mosbacher declares, "and I don't think anybody that's serious about running for mayor is going to wait until the end of the session."
But will Mosbacher still be qualified to run for the office by then? Danburg confirms that a number of Harris County legislators would like to reinstate the city's five-year residency requirement for mayoral candidates, a stricture that remains in the city charter but was effectively reduced to six months by state legislation passed in the late eighties. An Austin-based lobbyist predicts a rider will be appended to some upcoming bill to extend the residency requirement.
The purpose of such a move, Danburg explains, would be to ensure that "Houston is not taken over by carpetbaggers, and that we have real Houstonians for mayor."