Anti-Trinity Road PACs Will Let Dallas Shrug Off Shadow Government, Get on with Life

The unveiling later this week of a political action committee to kill the Trinity toll road will be in and of itself an enormous watershed moment in local politics. Unheard of.

The kind of people who oppose toll roads don't have PACs in Dallas. C'mon. They don't raise money for candidates. They don't interview people. Only big-dogs who want to see billions of tax dollars spent on public works projects to enhance their own real estate have PACs.

Other dogs, the kind who oppose big boondoggle projects, just sit around, bitch about it and get ignored. That has always been the Dallas way. And that is all about to change.

Wednesday at 12:30 pm in the flag room at City Hall, The Dallas Green Alliance will formally announce formation of a PAC to raise money for the upcoming May City Council elections. The headline on their press release says, "Killing Trinity Toll Road will be major litmus test for candidate support."

Get it? You sit down with them for the interview. They don't say, "Please dilate on the role of the man-made environment in shaping human experience."

They say, "Trinity toll road. Yes? No?"

In the last council elections, one candidate tried to say he thought the question was too divisive to answer, so he would not respond. With this new group, that goes down as, "Trinity toll road. Yes."

I love that. I talked about it yesterday with my former colleague, Sam Merten, now community affairs officer for The Bridge homeless shelter and a candidate for City Council next May in District 9 in Northeast Dallas. I asked him if he thought it was fair to hold candidates to a strict single-issue litmus test that way.

He said he thought it was, because the Trinity toll road issue has become so much more than the Trinity toll road issue. Merten said the toll road is linked to other infuriating City Hall escapades -- like the notorious horse park boondoggle and others -- all of which he said raise the same questions about integrity and competence.

See also: The Cruel and Unusual Building of the Texas Horse Park

I also spoke yesterday with Lorlee Bartos, a veteran Dallas political consultant advising the Dallas Green Alliance PAC, who said pretty much the same thing Merten did. She told me she thinks the moment has arrived for Dallas to shrug off what she called its "shadow government" and return control to the voters. "This is a question of who runs the city and how the city is run," she said.

And I spoke briefly with D Magazine Publisher Wick Allison, who told me he and a group of like-minded persons will announce a second PAC after the new year with an eye to the toll road but with a broader focus on the city's long-range future. "The transportation in this city utterly sucks," he said, "and the blame for that falls on the Regional Transportation Council." Allison said the entire region, in the city's core and in the semi-rural surroundings, shares an urgent interest in managing massive new volumes of freight traffic coming in the near future from Mexican ports and the widened Panama Canal.

"We need the freight traffic to go north, south, east and west from Dallas in an uncongested way," he said.

At the risk of vast over-simplification, this is what I see ahead. The Green Alliance coming out Wednesday looks like it has rolled up every smart effective activist group in the city -- the White Rock Lake/Winfrey Point people, the people holding the city's feet to the fire on the horse park, the anti-fracking-in-parks people and the way-back anti-toll-road people. Let's call their entry Stage Left.

Allison's group will enter from Stage Right. These will be powerful people with money who believe the city's old leadership has just sort of lost it where building future prosperity is concerned. These will be people with checkbooks who think the old guard is reliving the glory days of DFW airport and the 1970s, failing to notice somehow that we are now a good piece of road into the next century.

So it's Green (for Nature) Alliance, Stage Left. Green (for money) alliance, Stage Right. I believe that's what they call a pincer. It usually means sooner or later somebody else winds up taking a header into the orchestra pit.

Sooner. Later. I can wait.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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