Turkeys of the Year

The worst flock-ups of 2003, starting with Big Tom himself

Campaigner Turkey

In the heated campaign debate over whether Metro should build a light rail system, many opponents of the plan argued cogently, logically and calmly why they thought it was a mistake. And then there was John Culberson.

Judge Roxane Martinez's idea of judicial activism 
includes pool-game disputes at icehouses.
Chad Crowe
Judge Roxane Martinez's idea of judicial activism includes pool-game disputes at icehouses.
Jimy Williams made sure this year's flop was 
extra-annoying to Astros fans.
Chad Crowe
Jimy Williams made sure this year's flop was extra-annoying to Astros fans.

The U.S. representative from the west side vehemently hates rail. Which is his right, of course. But his frothing-at-the-mouth tactics and off-the-charts claims clearly place him as the Campaigner Turkey of 2003.

Culberson has piously maintained that he would abide by whatever the voters wanted in the rail referendum. But he did his best to block any such vote -- challenging the language of the ballot in a sneakily timed way that almost scrapped the whole thing.

He also threatened Metro board members by telling them their personal bank accounts could be attached for misuse of funds.

But all that is the grimly devious and power-drunk John Culberson. We prefer the hypocritical, grasping-at-straws John Culberson. The one who calls for federal investigations at the drop of a hat.

Culberson, you might recall, took issue with Metro's projections for future federal funding for its light rail project. Culberson -- that crazy, wild-eyed, anti-big-business anarchist -- accused the transit agency of using "Enron accounting." (We're sure the folks at Mother Jones and Greenpeace are counting on seeing Culberson at their next flash-mob demonstration against corporate malfeasance.)

Outraged, if not shocked, if not downright flabbergasted at the thought that a governmental agency might be using rosy-scenario numbers, Culberson fired off a letter demanding that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Houston investigate Metro pronto.

Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montrose, you are free to operate: The feds have better things to do!

Except that among the grunt workers in the U.S. Attorney's Office, Culberson's incensed call to arms was met with...a shrug of the shoulders.

"Obviously common sense tells you this happens a lot -- we get a request from a lot of people trying to use us to push their little agenda," one prosecutor says. "It sounds like something that would be back-burnered forever."

"Overestimating revenue is not a crime. If it was, every major city project would be under the microscope," says former U.S. attorney Ron Woods.

"The entire Bush administration would be in jail," says Metro spokesman Ken Connaughton.

What disturbed some people was the initial reaction from U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby, who -- instead of laughing outright -- gave reporters boilerplate language about receiving Culberson's letter but being unable to confirm or deny whether an investigation was taking place.

"That's one of the problems with our system: To the victor go the spoils. Clearly we have a Republican U.S. attorney, and he's not going to go against a Republican congressman," says Connaughton, who apparently doesn't worry too much about what Houston-area Republicans think about Metro. (Shelby did not return phone calls seeking comment.)

At any rate, it seems clear we should not be expecting to see Metro chairman Arthur Schechter -- or Ken Connaughton, for that matter -- marched off in chains in a federal courthouse "perp walk" anytime soon. To the dismay, no doubt, of John Culberson, tireless fighter against Enron accounting.

That's the same John Culberson, by the way, who initially announced he would be keeping a $5,000 campaign donation he had received from Enron's PAC, rather than donate it to employees as many politicians did in the wake of the company's collapse.

After a few days of heated reaction from Houston constituents, Culberson announced that he was "so appalled and outraged by the apparent conduct" of Enron executives that he'd changed his mind.

And a revolutionary was born.

Turkey Entertainers

For years people have been scoffing at the thought of listening to anything new by a decrepit rock act like the Rolling Stones or KISS. They'll pay money to see the oldies revived in concert but head for the beer lines as soon as the dread "Here's something from our new record" gets uttered.

But Houstonians who sneer at such dinosaurs give a free pass to the bloated, overrated, past-their-prime oldies act moldering publicly in our midst: ZZ Top.

ZZ Top's apogee came during the Nixon administration. Its nadir came not long afterward, when it pioneered the MTV formula of gimmicky visuals and lots of T. (Not to mention A.) They've been cruising downhill ever since, with the emphasis on "cruising." (Not to mention "downhill.")

It wasn't bad enough that they flogged their quickly tiresome formula for all it was worth and more. (Is there much difference between "Legs" and "Sharp-Dressed Man"?) At the height of the '80s, when their maniacal branding efforts turned them into parody, they rereleased their early, gritty albums -- gussied up to sound like the MTV crap they'd been sleepwalking through.

But boy, we (allegedly) love them in Houston. The group has served as celebrity models wearing the newly unveiled Houston Texans uniforms; they have been "entertainment ambassadors" for the doomed effort to land the 2012 Olympics. (Maybe the Olympic site committee members were still pissed over the $17.95 they'd spent six years ago on Rhythmeen.)

On the plus side, the group provided Houston with the most bizarre '70s flashback ever -- at least until Iraq turned into a foreign-conflict quagmire -- when, shortly after then-Enron Field opened, Billy Gibbons took in a game with Farrah Fawcett. Apparently Rerun from What's Happening had other plans that night.

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