Friday, July 13, 2012

Auto row has its knives out for Tea Party hopeful

“Any car salesman...will say anything...”

Belton – The remark hangs in the air like the lingering fumes of a dead pole cat on a sizzling Texas highway.

“Any car salesman...will say anything...,” according to Wes Riddle, who is swinging hard to defeat a conservative GOP stalwart in – of all things – the car business.

As Tea Party congressional candidates go, retired Lt. Col. Wes Riddle is on point.

He's got that peculiar blend of style that mates hoof in mouth disease with the bombast of any backyard bombardier.

There is no slick in his delivery. He's a ruddy, redheaded country boy with a cowlick, dressed in jeans and a checked shirt.

The West Pointer and young Army retiree is a two-time hopeful for a seat in the House of Representatives who takes the radical view that he wants to eliminate payroll taxes, limit big government influence, and free markets from Big Brother's regulation.

At that point, a quick look at his record as a professional soldier brings into sharp focus the paradoxes of much of the Tea Party movement. After all, young Col. Riddle went to the U.S. Military Academy at the tender age of 18, served with distinction as an officer commanding troops in middle eastern campaigns, then rounded out his career as a consultant with mega-military contractor Northrup Grumman advising the Royal Saudi Defense Force on how to best build new mechanized infantry brigades in the Persian Gulf region's troubled oil fields.

Logistics? “It's the kind of stuff that makes your hair hurt,” he recalled at one campaign stop – way back there last summer.

Cut this dude, he's gonna bleed green. ¿Sabes?

A quick hint: In gas-rich Johnson County, he and his staff run backwards from any discussion of compressed natural gas as a motor fuel.

Col. Riddle was a co-founder of the Tea Party movement in Bell County.

Col. Riddle attacked his opponent in the runoff primary election, a Weatherford auto dealer named Roger Williams who bested him in the Republican Primary for the GOP nomination in the sprawling and heavily gerrymandered new House of Representatives District 25.

It's a crescent-shaped slice of West Texas that stretches from the blackland prairies of Hill County, thence to the Johnson County gas fields near Cowtown, on out to the cattle country of Brownwood, then down the spine of the Hill Country to the Hays County retirement mecca of Dripping Springs and the ultra-conservative North Shore neighborhoods of Lake Travis.

Representative Doggett moved on to greener pastures after the 2010 census, running for re-election in an adjacent Congressional District nearer to his South Austin stronghold. How do, Jose. Adios, Jimmy Joe.

So, when the time to confront Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep dealer Roger Williams at a Hays County GOP forum in Dripping Springs last weekend, Col. Riddle took the old boy to task about the $82 billion auto bailout Congress passed to keep the nation's car manufacturers from sliding off the economic map after the credit crunch of 2008.

Mr. Williams stated that he opposed the entire thing, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program – TARP – that left Uncle Sam holding the paper on a bunch of upside down, underwater real estate.

When Mr. Williams claimed that he opposed the auto bailout, Col. Riddle grabbed that remark by the handle and started swinging. In a press release, he called him a liar.

“Our campaign today is calling... on Roger Williams to admit he lied to voters...on Sunday night.”

Then he went after Mr. Williams' wife, saying, “and his wife, who... personally lobbied for the funds is ridiculous. If Roger won't tell the voters the truth about his record, I will.”

There is video and a whole bunch of news ink telling the story of how Mrs. Williams, who holds the title of President of the Williams auto dealership, was caught in the act of helping Congress critters make up their minds to extend some timely credit to auto dealers caught in the squeeze of the darkest days of the mid-term, when banks and trading houses came crashing down left and right, then collapsed under the weight of their funny money deals, the Fed freaked, and the Treasury started printing greenbacks as fast as the presses could turn.

Something like 33 Chrysler dealerships in 25 states lobbied Congress and got a little over $12 billion in government loans. Mrs. Williams told newsmen at the time they turned to the government as a "lender of last resort."

As it turns out, Ford has a better idea.

The Dearborn-based manufacturer, which long ago innovated the assembly line method of punching out Tin Lizzies, Model A's, and hot rod V-8's in any color you want - as long as it's black - did not need any government bailout. It's a family business, its board closely held, its credit posture iron-clad, its common stock the bluest of blue chips.

Ford's corporate structure, which is vast, global, and turnkey, mines its own iron, manufactures its own steel, makes its own rubber, glass, plastic, copper wire – and everything else it takes to put that better idea on the road. In fact, when GM and Chrysler car lots were nearly denuded of product, when weeds started growing up in the cracks in the asphalt, Ford stores sported row upon row of shiny new pickups and SUV's, their grills glittering like big, toothy smiles, grinning in the hot Texas sun.

These Ford cats don't like it when a soldier starts badmouthing their collective reputation as salesmen. They have a rep to defend.

So now the vitriol has changed. It's personal. It's the Chamber vs. that Mean Green.

He is propagating the Wes Riddle campaign's press release - far and wide – in opposition to the kind of Tea Party bombast that gets so much mileage in conservative circles.

Stay tuned. The big tunas in the Texas GOP have acknowledged that they will need the crossover Hispanic vote to run Obama out of that White House.

They're betting their walking around money on it.

May we live in interesting times. In the spirit of the brave new world, we leave you with the sign of the T. 

Ah-ooga! - The Legendary 

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