It's Joe B.'s World

Joe B. Allen is relaxing, his thick torso reclining in his swivel chair, his dress-shoed feet propped on his desk. It's his favorite position for rumination, and, perhaps not coincidentally, the posture favored by Mayor Bob Lanier when he's at ease and holding forth in his office. If Allen were really letting his hair down he'd be puffing a fine cigar, but that's no longer allowed in the smoke-free environs of Vinson & Elkins, Houston's second-largest law firm. Even political kingmakers must make some bows to the times.

Allen has just gotten off the phone after helping avert a potential embarrassment at his alma mater, Baylor Law School. It seems someone there had the not-so-bright idea to have Attorney General Janet Reno address the annual Law Day banquet. As president of the law school alumni association, Allen suggested to planners that Reno, after the Branch Davidian firestorm that resulted from her order to send in the tanks, might not be the most appropriate choice to give a speech in Waco.

"They asked me who could I get [on short order], and I said, 'Who do you want?'" Allen relates with the assurance of someone who could -- and did -- hastily land the decidedly less incendiary Kay Bailey Hutchison as the keynoter.

Joe B.'s been dialing a lot of people's numbers these days, and taking plenty of calls on his end. It was Allen who herded together the downtown players and other money interests whose support helped usher Robert Eckels in as the new county judge. He's the guiding force behind former judge John Peavy in his runoff against Katherine Tyra for a vacant seat on the Houston City Council. Already, he's fielding inquiries from would-be candidates trying to line up financing for runs at the Council seats that will be open in the November election. And when Allen tells you it's way too early to start thinking about the shape of city government after Lanier, that just means he wants to have it all laid in concrete before anyone else gets there.

According to Lanier, who's given every indication he intends to seek a third two-year term this year, Allen is indeed already envisioning a City Hall apres Bob. "He's told me in the last week or so," says the mayor, "that he would like to get together with me and talk about what would happen at City Hall after I left; that he thought a lot of progress had been made in certain areas and how we should go about institutionalizing those changes."

Margaret Menger Wilson, who managed Kathy Whitmire's last two campaigns for mayor, isn't surprised that Allen's laying the groundwork for the post-Lanier world.

"Joe B. couldn't exist without Bob," she says, "and that's the critical thing, which of course explains why Joe B. is absolutely going to spend some energy in the next few months attempting to determine what the best way is to continue that influence long after Bob is gone."

Since he was named treasurer of Vinson & Elkins' potent political action committee in 1987, Allen has risen from the law firm's low-media-profile MUD man, as in municipal utility district, to become perhaps the most powerful figure in Houston's public life who doesn't hold an elective office. When Lanier's feud with Mayor Kathy Whitmire spilled over into the electoral arena in 1991, Joe B. was waiting for Bob at the gate. Since then the pair has grown so close that it's sometimes hard to tell where Bob leaves off and Joe B. begins.

Although he's shorter than the 6-foot-4-inch Lanier, the 51-year-old Allen projects the same imposing physicality as the 69-year-old mayor. And like Lanier, whose chuckling digressions are the distinguishing feature of both his public and private speech, Allen has his own signature verbal tic: when he warms to a subject and gets rolling, he'll drop in a peremptory "All right?" or "Okay?" every 20 seconds or so, depending on his persuasive intent. It's a hypnotic habit that lulls the listener into a continual state of nodding agreement: "Uh huh. Uh huh. Uh huh...."

Allen's comfortable but not lavishly appointed office is one cell in the Vinson & Elkins honeycomb in the First City Tower. The most curious feature there, other than that flamboyant bronze nude of Neptune on his desk, is a copy of Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, placed for effect on the top of the bookshelf nearest the yellowing, sun-bleached mahogany door. The small tome is signed by one Walter Mischer, the retired developer and investor who used to hold Allen's position of kingmaker without portfolio.

Like Lanier, Allen seems a throwback to a era long predating political correctness, when Jesse Jones, the city's ultimate power dealer, ran the world out of the fabled Suite 8F at the Lamar Hotel and future kingmakers like Mischer ran errands and relayed orders to the frontmen who passed for the politicians of the day.

"Joe would have loooooved to have been a fixture in Suite 8F," says a lawyer who knows him well. "But by the time he got to town, the hotel was closed."

These days, with the formerly excluded -- blacks, Hispanics, women and neighborhood activists -- all clamoring for a place at the table, some folks might find the notion of "kingmaker" anti-Democratic. But former developer Lanier, having played the game himself before running for mayor, suggests it's just part of the natural order.

"It's really not that unusual in this town or any town for a handful of players to be similarly positioned," he muses. "Nature and politics abhors a vacuum. (Joe B.'s) not the only one. Over the years I've lived in my fair share of smoke-filled rooms."

Allen chaired Lanier's transition team, helped compile recommendations for restructuring the municipal courts and in the last three years has represented one corporate client after another in delicate negotiations with the Lanier administration. In doing so, he's worked out deals with the mayor whose results differed significantly from what the city set out to achieve. Lanier says he forced Allen's clients to accept terms more beneficial to the city. The few critics who've actually raised their voices suspect the benefits flowed in the opposite direction.

"In these situations, the city started out with a house of one color, and overnight it changes color," says City Controller George Greanias. "And the only person who was there who hadn't been there before, holding a paint brush, was Mr. Allen. Now in the absence of evidence to the contrary, you've got to assume he had a major role in changing the color of that house."

Allen is occasionally visible at City Hall. He could be seen sitting in the audience recently as councilmembers approved a deal favorable to one of his clients, Lyondell Chemical. But his natural theater of action is huddling privately with Lanier in the mayor's office or chatting with him on the phone.

It's not that he has anything against councilmembers. In fact, Allen declares that he "loves" the new City Council, the one created by the city's term-limits law. It's no wonder, given that the body's subservience to Lanier makes a rubber stamp seem a wildly unpredictable instrument by comparison.

"You don't need to lobby this City Council," observes at-large Councilman Lloyd Kelley, one of the few members who consistently gives Lanier any guff. "There isn't any City Council. The mayor makes all the decisions. That's who you need to lobby. He's the king. I just get to play court jester."

Even Lanier acknowledges that hiring Allen gives a City Hall supplicant a significant edge over competitors.

"I think it is [an advantage], the knowledge of me as I see it, and almost the study of how I would react and what motivates and drives me."

That is to say that the secret of Allen's success at City Hall is his intuitive feel for Bob Lanier, at least according to Bob Lanier.

"I think he can predict what I will do with reasonable accuracy," the mayor explains. "Joe has credibility with me. He's not told me any jokes, so I believe him. He comes in with a bark-off proposition, knows I'm not looking for lunch and doesn't bring me a fruit basket. You know, we just get right down to it. Sometimes I can do what he says, and sometimes I can't."

The words "fear" and "intimidation" are frequently applied to Lanier and Allen. While Allen is widely described by downtown political types as "mean" and "arrogant," it's hard to find an example where he's actually caused anyone real pain. In most instances, just the threat of his ire seems to do the trick. Lanier says fear can be a useful concept in both his and Joe B.'s lines of work.

"I've read this somewhere and I believe this," says Lanier, "that every successful man conveys a sense of danger if pushed too far. I think Joe has a certain dignity to him that asks respect and it signals to people doing business with him that he wants to be treated with respect and would expect it. I would expect him to react adversely if that threshold line in his judgment was crossed."

Lanier smiles.
"But I've not seen it, no."
It's not a side Allen shows at home, either.

"I think his persona is very much that of a hardball player, someone that you respect but you don't mess around with in any form or fashion," says his wife, Helen Allen, an English professor at the University of Houston. "But he is really different at home. Eighteen years ago when I married him I thought he would be the disciplinarian, kind of the traditional head of the family. Well, truly that is not the case. He is very much putty in the hands of the children."

Allen, for his part, says that if fear is an emotion Lanier invokes in others, it's in the intellectual rather than the physical dimension, particularly when dealing with councilmembers.

"I think that they are scared of him only in the sense -- and I don't think 'scared' is the right term, okay? -- that he has a tremendous mind and he works problems out so thoroughly that you would be very careful before you challenge him, unless you look like a fool. All right?"

Despite his don't-mess-with-me aura, Allen is unlike the prototypical downtown lawyer in a number of ways. Helen Allen says her husband has a wide circle of friends that extends far beyond fellow lawyers. While the Allens live in one of the Memorial Drive villages outside the city of Houston, they are not members of the exclusive Houston or River Oaks country clubs, preferring Sweetwater in Fort Bend County, where Joe B. has many of his closest business and political connections. The couple host their share of parties and dinners, but don't make or seek mention in the social columns. Joe B., in addition to enjoying good cigars, favors fine California cabernet sauvignons and has an adventurous palate.

While Allen relishes the good life, he's reached his current station only after a drive for respect and security fueled by a very difficult youth. "You don't know how far I've come," he told a Chronicle reporter for a feature that previously was the only article of substance printed about him in the local media. It promptly went up on his wall in a frame.

Joe Bailey Allen III was born on April 14, 1943, in the North Central Texas farm and ranch town of Hamilton, population 3,000. He never knew the two other men who carried his name. His father was killed by Japanese soldiers in New Guinea and his paternal grandfather died when Allen was an infant.

Until the third grade Allen alternated between his maternal grandparent's farm and his father's mother's home in Hamilton. A great-uncle, Bill Allen, had been a classmate of Governor Allan Shivers at the fledgling University of Texas law school and was the leading politician in Hamilton County, kingmaker in a very small realm.

"He ran everybody's campaigns when they came through and the first thing I remember was hanging out at his office and in election years driving around and putting fliers out," Allen recalls. "I learned to drive an old '48 Ford coupe with a stick at the age of 12 so I could go out and put up posters all over the countryside .... I remember when Price Daniels, the governor, came by and visited the Hamilton County Courthouse."

The grandparent-centered life in Hamilton came to an abrupt end when Allen's mother remarried, to a man Allen refuses to discuss on-the-record except to indicate his disgust at being forced to live with him. The family settled in Levelland, in West Texas, 30 miles west of Lubbock, but not for long.

"Fifth grade we went off pipe-lining in New Mexico, and I went to like six schools in one year, like a farm worker's kid might do. Seventh grade we went to Idaho and I went to five schools." Life stabilized after the eighth grade, with Allen finishing high school in Levelland, lettering in track and football, and spending summers in Hamilton.

"Forty years ago there were not as many people who didn't have fathers," says Helen Allen, "and some of these things were not as socially acceptable. I think that was a catalyst for his drive to prove himself."

With an uncle and a great-grandfather, both successful lawyers, as role models, Allen's choice of a legal career and Baylor followed naturally. He took his law degree on an accelerated program, married at 21 and joined a Waco firm, becoming a partner after five years. His specialty was urban infrastructure, an area of expertise that would later become his stock-in-trade in Houston, and his main client was the city's urban renewal agency, which during his tenure basically remade the face of downtown Waco. Despite his professional success, by 1974 Allen's marriage was coming unglued. And Waco was proving to be a very small town.

"I'd kinda run out of turf in Waco," Allen says with a grimace. "One thing about that town is you know everybody. And that can be good or bad. One of the things I like about Houston is you don't know everybody and at least you don't see all the same people every day. I can go to some events and literally not know a soul. I think, 'Who are these people, and why don't I know any of them?'"

Allen and his wife divorced. Financially drained and owing heavy child support for his two young daughters, Allen did what a lot of people did in the 1970s: with just $200 in his pockets, he headed for Houston to start over. In shuttling between Houston and Waco to visit his daughters, Allen furthered his previous acquaintance with a woman whose domestic situation was similar to his own. Helen Bergen was raising two young sons who happened to be the same ages as Allen's daughters. The Brady Bunch combination clicked, and they married.

Vinson & Elkins hired Allen for his Waco specialty, municipal finance, at a time when municipal utility districts were multiplying like cottontails in the exploding suburban developments on Houston's outskirts. By some accounts, MUDs were the best money churners developers could imagine until the age of unregulated savings and loans arrived.

MUDs are state-sanctioned entities initially controlled by the developer of a property outside existing water and sewer services. A MUD requires a lawyer's hand at every stage of development. A developer issues tax-free bonds to finance construction and the initial residents purchase homesteads or commercial properties. Those first property owners form a board, which is usually a start-up rubber-stamp body for the developer. A tax rate is set to service the bonds, and with lawyers like Allen as advisors, the MUD is up and running. The developer then recoups his money and moves on.

If the developer honors commitments and the construction is sound, everyone's happy. If not, chaos and bankruptcy can ensue. In any case, the MUD continues to function until it is annexed by an expanding municipality, when its debts are absorbed along with the assets of its existing infrastructure. The residents then pay the tax rate of the annexing municipality.

By the time Allen arrived in Houston in 1975, MUDs had gone through a series of scandals. Before the reformist Texas Municipal Utility District Act of 1971, developers could get a favored lawmaker to introduce custom-designed MUD bills that sailed through the Legislature unscrutinized. In Pro-Growth Politics, Change and Governance in Houston, Robert Thomas and Richard Murray write that Houston was one of the Texas cities bitten worst by developers' runaway issuance of MUD debt. After the city annexed nearly 200 square miles in 1956, citizens found they had swallowed $36.5 million of debt. An independent audit documented questionable financial practices in the annexed MUDs, including excessive developer profit, misuse of funds and incomplete financial reporting.

The law firms that handle local MUDs are a relatively select crew. Of 337 districts created in Harris County between 1955 and 1977, Vinson & Elkins handled the largest number, 84.

During the boom years of the 1970s and early '80s, when Allen was cutting his teeth on Houston-area MUDs, local growth overwhelmed the city of Houston's and Harris County's capabilities. According to Murray and Thomas, the "capacity of wastewater treatment plants to handle long-term needs were glossed over." As subdivisions grew many "package plants were used far in excess of their maximum loads. Neither did the city pay attention to the siting of district facilities; consequently, the city had no control over the future integration of district facilities into a regional wastewater or water supply system." The city has spent millions straightening out the wastewater mess inherited from boom-time MUDs.

Allen dismisses the MUD-spawned problems by saying, "People tried to write a few stories saying that." To hear him tell it, the world of MUDs for the most part has been a place of happy neighborhood campers, responsible developers and independent financial advisors. He prefers not to be seen as a representative of the developer, but rather the independent MUD, which he says is its own little democracy in action, kind of like "a small city council."

"It's a fascinating practice," Allen says of his work. "It's interesting because you get this unusual array of personalities, developers, residents who live in these districts, the various consultants. You always get so many of those 'you had to be there' stories."

Helen Allen says that for years she and the couple's children never really understood what it was the head of their household actually did. One summer she tagged along to a MUD board meeting in a temporary church and spent the evening listening to people say the same things over and over.

"I couldn't believe it," she recalls. "Early in our marriage patience was not his strong suit. But what he had realized was that until everyone had gotten a chance to talk and to say what they wanted to say, you weren't going to be able to move forward. And until that moment there wasn't any point in trying to move things forward."

Allen does recall one MUD, Emerald Forest Utility District, that was not a land of happy campers. The developer had disappeared, the sewage plant's main intake line had collapsed in soft sand, the water well wasn't working because of high levels of natural gas and board members had stopped coming to meetings in disgust. The tax rate was twice that of surrounding districts, and the engineer was incompetent. "There was nothing about the deal that worked," says Allen.

And worst of all, the gas in the water was creating some strange side effects. "People would be out watering the grass and smoking a cigarette, which was still allowed in those days, and a little gas would come out. If you held the cigarette too close you'd get a little extra fire going. One guy went into the john and was smoking a cigarette and threw it in the commode. Set the commode seat on fire."

Eventually the MUD's water storage tank blew up when workers set off a natural gas accumulation by lighting an acetylene torch.

But as in most Joe B. Allen stories, the saga of Emerald Forest had a happy ending, one reflecting the greater glory of Vinson & Elkins and fixer extraordinaire Joe B.

"We went to work on the finances and there was a lot of other land adjoining the district, and we started annexing these deals into the MUD. We took it from an absolute disaster to a rated district in about five years. When I gave it off to someone else it had a 60-cent tax rate. And everybody lived happily ever after."

His 18 years of working with MUDs taught Allen to think long-term -- one of the strengths he's brought to his political endeavors. Politics is a seasonal sport, and his ability to look beyond the current cycle sets Allen apart in an elite with Lanier and a very few others in Houston.

His MUD work also put Allen in touch with major local developers and elected officials and bureaucrats throughout Harris and surrounding counties, as well as plugging him into the state's Legislature and regulatory agencies, where he came to know the players while lobbying on MUD-related legislation and shepherding his districts along their bureaucratic tracks.

With his increased political duties at V&E and Lanier's election, Allen's practice shifted from MUDs to representing clients in their dealings with the city of Houston. It is that work that has both given him a rising profile in the news media and embroiled him in some controversy.

As with the world of MUDs, Allen is prone to sweeping pronouncements about the public benefits of his influence at City Hall. He contends that the transaction of business in the Kingdom of Bob is actually less political now than when Whitmire reigned.

"Under Whitmire, especially during the last two terms, all decisions were political. All right? What causes the least controversy. Nothing was driven by merit. The great attribute that Lanier has is that he is driven by merit. He wants to know what are the merits, what are the facts, what is the right thing to do that gets the best result for the least amount of money. And in my view, the reason he has such a wonderful relationship with Council is that they know he is driven on the merits. And even if they disagree with him they don't question his motivation for doing it."

It's the kind of statement that provokes former Whitmire associates to poke fingers to the back of their tongues. Like the land of happy MUDs, it's just a little too pat and self-serving a world-view to swallow whole.

Greanias sees the Lanier administration, and Allen in particular, as operating in a very different fashion. He singles out Allen's roles in the gutting of a campaign reform ordinance, the approval of a new city franchise agreement with Warner Cable, the Council's decision to keep Sanus as the health benefits supplier for city employees and the non-annexation of a Lyondell Chemical plant and three other industrial facilities.

"There's a common thread to those four episodes," says the controller. "The city had pretty much evolved a position, and various individuals, including Mr. Allen, appear on the scene and the position changes. On campaign finance reform, my impression was that Councilman Vince Ryan had pretty much lined up the votes for reform, and at the last minute, a substitute document provided by Mr. Allen appears, and campaign reform is scuttled. The appearance is maintained, but the substance is removed."

Allen says campaign finance reform, particularly attempts to rein in the influence of PACs, is pretty much a waste of time.

"It's sort of symbolic," he says, "but in the end I can't tell that it really does much. It's made it more legalistic. It's given rise to a great industry for lawyers and accountants, but it hasn't impeded the flow of money ... what's happened is that everybody's just thought up all these circuitous ways to funnel money."

Ryan, out of elected office for the first time in years and making a living as an attorney, declined to discuss the campaign reform fight. Back when he was running for county judge against Allen's man Eckels, however, he openly accused Lanier and Allen of working together to emasculate the ordinance.

Allen's hands were also all over the contract Warner Cable negotiated shortly after Lanier took office. Only Ryan and City Councilman Al Calloway voted against the deal, which granted the company a city cable franchise for 15 years.

Not a wise idea for the city, says Greanias, in an age when the communications business changes so rapidly.

Lanier says he was more personally involved in the cable negotiations than others in which Allen was the lobbyist, and came armed with a shopping list that included winning a $100 million commitment from Warner to upgrade its system to fiber optics.

"The weakness in the city position," he says, "is it's very, very difficult under the law to terminate a franchise holder of a cable franchise. So you're probably going to be living with that franchise holder." What Lanier doesn't mention is that the city scuttled arrangements to be represented by a law firm with a national reputation for expertise in regulatory law and turned the franchise negotiations over to the legal department, then headed by Benjamin Hall III, who had recently arrived at City Hall from Vinson & Elkins.

Greanias cites a flap over employee health-care benefits as yet another case of the Lanier administration flip-flopping after Joe B. entered the picture.

"The administration had made it clear it intended to recommend two providers, which in a period of rising health costs made sense," he says. "You'd keep those two providers in competition with each other, and reduce overall the city's cost. But at the last minute, Sanus, one of whose lobbyists was Mr. Allen, managed to persuade the administration to drop the second firm and propose only Sanus."

Richard Shaw, who heads the municipal employees union, says the first choice of city workers was a two-plan offering of Sanus and Cigna.

"At that time we were afraid Sanus was low-balling and we had a little more confidence the way the Cigna plan was designed," says Shaw. "We felt there was more incentive for better care with Cigna." In fact, Shaw's union had helped boot Sanus out of the Houston school district contract the year before. It has since been reinstated.

"I saw Joe B. Allen around there and my impression was he was doing his job as a paid lobbyist," Shaw adds. "What concerns us from the employee standpoint is that lobbying won out over common sense, or maybe good judgment. In this case, the city employees would have been better off with two competing health providers. There would have been competition. Sanus would have had an additional incentive to perform well. In this case paid lobbying won out over the interest of the employees."

Shaw concedes, however, that Lanier cut a good deal with Sanus "in just a dollar sense. He did get them to come down much lower than I thought they would, so I've got to give him that credit. And so far they seem to be doing a good job."

For his part, Allen said the Sanus deal was typical of his other efforts on behalf of corporate clients.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there where people have wrong ideas or wrong concepts or have vendettas, or where they're competitors. All right? Sanus deal, two competitors out there spreading a lot of misinformation about Sanus and the process. Sanus was the low bidder. All right? There was a competitive process. They were the low bidder. They met the specs and they had the lowest bid. All right?"

The latest example of Allen's influence -- the city's decision to let four industrial plants avoid a proposed annexation -- seems more ambiguous, given the varying figures offered on the benefits of the annexation. The deal that emerged and was approved by Council allowed the plants to be designated as "industrial districts" and pay the city fees in lieu of lost tax revenue.

"It was clearly the intention of the administration to annex the four tracts," says Greanias. "Again, lobbyists came forward, and the next thing anyone knew, the administration was proposing that industrial district contracts be granted. It's clearly not in the city's interests to forego revenues." Based on the administration's numbers, Greanias calculates that the decision not to annex will cost citizens $5 million in lost revenue.

Both Allen and Lanier counter that the costs of providing city services to the plants and the threat of lawsuits made the annexation counterproductive.

"Greanias' ability with numbers has not impressed me in recent years," says Allen, admittedly no fan of the controller. "You can prove, if you annex and provide no services, it's 100 percent profit [for the city], right? Most of us think if the city is going to annex, there ought to be service. Are they going to build water lines out there to give us water service like other people have? Are they going to give us sewer like other people have? They going to build a fire station out there with equipment capable of serving other big industrial plants? So once you start that argument the numbers can move dramatically, depending on what you think the city's duty is."

Greanias says he'd like to see some quantification of those costs. "A lot of numbers were thrown around in what appears to be a scare tactic. The argument kind of got to the point where if downtown Houston fell into a gigantic hole, we'll have to pay all these enormous amounts of money to fix it up. Well, if that were to happen, yeah. But the question is what is the likelihood of all these doomsday scenarios that were being thrown out at the last minute."

Lanier argues that since an industrial district has an immediate payoff and annexation wouldn't yield revenue for a year, "I actually got four years of payments on an agreement that expires in three years." At the end of the agreement, which expires at the same time as an industrial district for Ship Channel plants, all the facilities can be annexed by the city.

It is easy to demonstrate where Allen gained a favorable hearing for his clients with the administration. At the same time, the working relationship between Lanier and Allen has produced some demonstrable short-term gains for the city.

"Perhaps they're using each other," concedes Greanias. "But my personal view is that in each of those situations the city has not been served well by switching roads."

Lanier will concede that the outcomes may have been different if Allen hadn't been present at the table.

"In international relations the best diplomats are those that understand the other country and what they'll do and won't do. He was a significant voice in all three negotiations. If you took him out of the equation I would reason that you'd expect a different result. Exactly what it would be, I don't know. If you took me out of the equation and put someone else in this chair, there would likely be a different result."

We know where Joe B.'s been, but where is he going? Or rather, where does he plan to take us? Listening to him expound on what he sees as a dire need for the downsizing of government at all levels, you get the feeling he has an agenda stretching far beyond his stroll with Bob Lanier down municipal lane.

Allen, however, says he has no plans to run for office himself (although one can't help wondering why he was willing to sit for three hours' worth of interviews and a photo session for this article).

"One, I can't afford it," he explains of his lack of desire to personally enter the electoral arena. "And secondly, that's not where my interest is. But I tend to believe I'll still be a player around here after Lanier."

In fact, Allen is amused by the suggestion that his own standing in the political realm is tied to the rise and demise of Mayor Lanier.

"Let me say I have great respect for the mayor," he says slowly, "but I had a fairly successful career here before he was mayor and I believe I'll have a very successful career after he's mayor."

Allen certainly has an eye peeled on the city's future, and he mentions Councilman Joe Roach as one person he considers potential mayoral timber. But it's pretty clear that his crystal ball conjures the sharp-featured visage of Hammerin' Helen Huey, the human bulldozer from Spring Branch, as his first choice to succeed Lanier.

"I think she has a lot of great leadership qualities," Allen says. "Works very hard at it. Understands public policy issues. Knows how to analyze a problem and come up with an effective solution."

When it comes time to helping craft those solutions, one suspects that minister-without-portfolio Joe B. Allen would aspire to play exactly the same role in the court of Queen Helen that he has in the halls of King Bob.

That is, if he isn't surreptitiously trying the crown on for size himself.
All right?

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