Democratic County Judge Jim Foster May be the Latest Target in the Inland Port Battle

So the Democratic Party in Dallas County is going to slit the neck of its own highest office-holding incumbent, Dallas County Judge Jim Foster, who has committed no sin.

State Senator Royce West and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, two of the county's top Democrats, have declared publicly that they will support someone else for Foster's post in the March 2010 Democratic primary election.

What was it Isaac said to Abraham on Mount Moriah? The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?

Ah, that would be you.

Look, being a communistic libertarian Malthusian Fourierist myself, I take no sides in other people's intramural bloodletting. I just thought you might want to know some inside skinny.

According to a February 8 story by Gromer Jeffers in The Dallas Morning News, West, who represents District 23 in central and southern Dallas County, and Price, who represents the Commissioners Court District 3 in southeastern Dallas County, are opposed to Foster because both feel the Democrats need "new blood."

Maybe not so much new blood. Just his blood.

Foster took a tough stance against West and Price in defense of the "inland port," a shipping and warehousing development in southern Dallas County. He told me last week that West and Price are involved in what he called a "shakedown" of the main developer, The Allen Group. Foster says that's why West and Price are out to get him.

But first, in order to write this column, I had to go back and do something I would dearly love to avoid doing for the rest of my life—reading my own stuff. Foster, you recall, was swept in by the November 2006 Democratic electoral tsunami in which Dallas County Democrats took 41 of 42 offices and turned the local world upside down. He came to the table with almost no political experience. It showed.

Let's see here. On August 9, 2007, I called him "Judge Jim ('The Accident') Foster." In the same article, I described him as "a mysterious little man who is hardly ever there."

I am not hugely proud of this record. Foster was brand-new to public office. He stepped into a high-profile, high-pressure position with a tough learning curve. Maybe a more generous person would have cut him more slack at the outset. But, you know, I don't remember "generous" coming up in my job interview here.

The truth is that he has evolved in office. He led the commissioners court to an enlightened position on free distribution of condoms. He discovered huge inefficiencies in the county's collection of traffic fines and instituted an effective reform. As part of that, he fixed the county's computer system so that people with overdue tickets could no longer renew their drivers' licenses or get their vehicles inspected.

He discovered dishonest mechanics were selling vehicle inspection stickers without doing the inspections and created a Clean Air Task Force to deal with this and other pollution problems.

Not bad. We should've noticed.

In the inland port matter, he took a very tough, independent stance on an issue of enormous importance to the whole county but especially to the constituents of West and Price.

I spent part of last week riding around southern Dallas, looking at the boom taking place along the Interstate 20 corridor driven mainly by the development of a massive rail, trucking and warehousing nexus that promises to make Dallas a major continental shipping hub.

Especially in these disastrous economic times nationally, the activity and job creation related to the inland port in southern Dallas County are a phenomenally counterintuitive story of success—really good news, a ray of golden sunshine through dark clouds.

The primary engine driving the inland port development is a firm, The Allen Group or TAG, that has moved here from California. TAG is here not because anybody in Dallas invited it. The company, which has been active in shipping and warehousing in the Middle West and California, looked at a map of America and saw a ganglion of rail routes and expressways converging in southern Dallas County.

Richard Allen, CEO of TAG, a family-owned company, has been candid about other important elements in TAG's decision to buy 6,000 acres here: His firm came to southern Dallas County seeking cheap land and lots of available labor but especially a less onerous burden of government regulation.

Joke's on them.

In recent months I have reported here about efforts by certain southern Dallas elected officials, especially Commissioner Price, to take control of the inland port. Not every elected official in town or even in southern Dallas County has supported Price in this effort.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson was especially tough on him when I spoke with her about the inland port. She and I talked at the end of last year, and I reported on that conversation at the time. But it's worth a refresher course now because of the way it fits with what Foster told me last week.

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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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