When the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority formally meets in all its august splendor, Jack Rains is easy to spot.
He's the big, florid-faced bullfrog in the middle, hunched forward, scanning the crowd over half-moon glasses, tossing out bon mots and acerbic asides in a guttural croak easily imitated by everyone who does business with him.
"Thank you, Mrs. Scrap Iron," he'll rumble to fellow board member Carol Garner, wife of Milwaukee Brewers manager Phil Garner, who's known as "Scrap Iron" to some desperate-for-color members of the sporting media.
Outside the meeting room, the former Texas secretary of state and onetime gubernatorial candidate pulls no punches when he defends his actions against perceived slights, such as accusations of secret meetings.
"We're not trying to hide anything -- we're trying to get up to speed," he'll bellow.
He emphasizes that he didn't negotiate the deal that says the stadium must be built by April 2000 and must cost no more than $250 million: "Maybe you're pissed off about all this," he'll say of his critics. "But don't start bitching at me -- I just got here. I didn't create this mess, I inherited it. They've criticized us mercilessly about 'Where's your budget?' Well, to have a budget you need beginning balances, and I'm not going to sign off on beginning balances until I examine everything. I'm not going to be like that second lieutenant who signs off and then discovers he's missing three tanks."
An Aggie to the bone, the blustery Rains has been called -- not always approvingly -- a "bull in a china shop" by more than one person keeping an eye on the Sports Authority.
"Jack sometimes overestimates his political acumen," says one observer who prefers anonymity. "He's a brilliant political guy, and he doesn't second-guess himself. But you gotta be really sensitive on this stuff, and that's not his forte. He really is a bull in a china shop, and that might be an asset at one time, but I'm not sure it is now."
Rains hit a rough patch after losing the GOP gubernatorial primary in 1990; a costly divorce from his longtime wife was one reason, friends said, that he passed up a chance to challenge Attorney General Dan Morales in 1994.
Since leaving electoral politics, he has worked at a large downtown law firm, made some big money starting a company that sells postage on the Internet and settled at the Greenway Plaza law firm of Looper, Reed, Mark & McGraw.
Before all that, he headed 3D International, the development firm behind the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Through it all, he's nursed and reveled in his reputation as a plain-spoken, no-shit good-ol'-boy from Port Arthur.
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"The free enterprise system's been very good to me; I've hit some home runs," he says. "After I left office, I went to practice with one of those big firms, and I just hated it. There were 200 people in it and they were all just meeting all the time. As you can probably tell, I am not one of those buttoned-down guys, and they'd be standing around saying stuff like 'And when is your Princeton reunion?' I just can't fucking relate to that ... I'm an entrepreneur. We build companies."
Any criticism of how the Authority might be rushing pell-mell to disaster because of an arbitrary deadline of Opening Day 2000 is met with a shrug. "These are the cards I've been dealt," Rains says. "In a pristine world -- and that is where some of my critics live -- there would be no deadline of a November 1 groundbreaking, and an April 2000 date would be unreasonable. I've been in the development business a long time and, you know, I can't really argue with that.
"If I was czar, maybe I'd change some of that. But I'm not ... Within the framework we were given, we did as well as we could by the taxpayers. We'll be criticized, but we live in a world of give-and-take, and I think we've done a good job."