Coburn, edifice complex prevention on 20/20

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Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn will be on ABC's 20/20 tonight (9 p.m. CDT) to talk about Congress's spending addiction:

But who in Congress really wants to end [wasteful spending]? After all, you can get re-elected by spending other Americans' money on people in your state.

Well, at least one senator wants to cut back on that spending — Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

"The oath that we take has no mention of our state. The oath we take is to do what is in the best interest of the country as a whole," Coburn said....

And what's his response to other members of Congress who say that they're building useful things — necessary infrastructure in their districts?

"If you're building infrastructure and you're stealing it from your grandchildren, how's that moral?" asked Coburn. "The greatest moral issue of our time today isn't the war in Iraq, it isn't abortion, it isn't any of the other issues. It is, is it morally acceptable to steal opportunity and future from the next generation?"

They're stealing your money, he said, to spend it on things like a North Carolina Teapot Museum. Are those teapots crucial to the national interest? The museum is still not built, so the teapots are waiting in a warehouse.

"That's stealing," said Coburn. "It's also unconscionable that we would not be paying attention to that."

Also tonight on 20/20, they'll talk to State Rep. Dan Greenberg about his "Edifice Complex Prevention Act," which would prohibit naming public facilities after living people:

"This is a practice that's got to stop," Greenberg said. "For me, it just comes too close to using taxpayer money to build temples to living people."

"In the old days we had a tradition of waiting to judge a person's whole life before we named a building after them," Greenberg said. "Now we have this modern trend of … naming buildings after politicians while they're in the prime of life. And you know, that creates a problem. If we're gonna use taxpayer money to publicize ourselves, if we're gonna use taxpayer money to build temples to ourselves. … That's very dangerous."...

What made Greenberg say "enough" was when he discovered there was a park named after him and a bunch of other legislators.

"The worst thing was that another county legislator said, 'I appreciate you putting my name on this sign, but you did not put it in my campaign colors,'" Greenberg said. "And that was so distasteful. I just said to myself, 'Enough.'"

Greenberg's had to make some adjustments in his original proposal -- to allow someone who donates a building to a college to get his name on it, for example. But the main point -- keeping pols from honoring themselves antehumously -- is still intact.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree: Dan Greenberg is the son of Paul Greenberg of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, who writes one of the best syndicated columns anywhere -- literate, witty, filled with common sense.

Here's a video interview with Greenberg after he pulled his bill earlier this year, talking about his colleagues' reaction to the bill. (A fellow Republican told him that he shouldn't be bothered by the naming of buildings because Republicans were winning the building naming war in northwest Arkansas.)

You've got to like a state rep who can quote Cato the Elder or come up with a punny bill title.

A local story indicates the danger of honoring living persons with buildings.

There's a city park on 41st Street west of Red Fork. Originally it was named to honor Finis W. Smith, the State Senator for District 37 from 1965 to 1982. He spent four years as State Senate President Pro Tempore (1969-1973). He quit two years before his term expired, just as a controversy surrounding business he and his wife did with Tulsa County tag agencies began to erupt. Then in August 1984:

Former state Sen. Finis Smith and his wife were indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on mail fraud and tax evasion charges in connection with business dealings they had with four Tulsa County tag agents.

The 18-count indictment alleges the Smiths maintained several undisclosed foreign bank accounts and failed to report income from their business interests on their federal and state income tax forms.

According to the indictment, the Smiths held five certificate of deposit accounts, one savings account and one money market account in a bank in Tampico, Mexico.

Finis Smith arranged for three family members to be appointed as tag agents, then set up dummy corporations to "perform services" for these tag agencies. The money paid to these companies was diverted into the Smiths' personal bank accounts. Not only were Smith and his wife Doris subjected to Federal prosecution, several school districts sued them, because their actions misdirected funds that were due to the schools.

In November 1985, the two were convicted and sent to Federal prison. A month later, the Tulsa Parks and Recreation Board removed Smith's name from Finis Smith Park, renaming it Red Fork Tract. (In 1986, it was renamed Challenger 7 Park in honor of the crew of the space shuttle that exploded early that year.) His name was also taken off a teaching clinic at the Oklahoma College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery. To Smith's credit, he took the initiative to have his name removed; news stories indicate that the parks board and the OCOMS board complied regretfully.

(There's a whole 'nother story I could go into about the connection between the Smiths' conviction and the downfall of then-Mayor Terry Young. It's fascinating.)

Oh, and do you remember when Driller Stadium was named Sutton Stadium? And why it didn't stay named that for very long?

UPDATE: Thanks to Rep. Greenberg for stopping by! (See his comment below.) And on NRO, Deroy Murdock has photos of the edifice complex in action at the federal level:

It is tough for politicians to oppose projects named after their colleagues. It’s one thing to block questionable funds for the Johnstown Cambria County Airport. It’s quite another to turn thumb’s down on the John Murtha Airport when big, bad John himself is standing ten-feet away on the House floor, glowering at you.

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XonOFF said:

Sutton Stadium...ahh,

Named after Robert Sutton, local oilman extrodinare. When the Federal Production Tax went into effect in the Mid/Late? 70's, Mr. Sutton made Billions (when "Billions" was used much less than today) in the oil trading business.

As a gesture of his fondness for the Drillers and this City, he donated the cost of building the new Drillers' Stadium with his newfound wealth. Having known the man personally, I'd have to suggest it more that he liked his name lighted up like that.

Shortly thereafter, the Feds discovered most of Mr. Sutton's wealth had come from selling "old" oil at "new" oil prices. I don't know the particulars, but "old" oil wasn't taxed the same way "new" oil was (and, I also cannot recall what date was significant) making it cheap to buy old oil, and very profitable to sell it at new oil prices. But, it was illegal to do so. The Feds spent years convicting him. And, to be truthful, I don't even know if he ever spent a day in prison, but I believe so.

One night, someone at the County went up and swapped out the sign on the stadium, I guess, there was never really any discussion about it that I can recall.

XonOFF said:

The last entry on the page:

"(from Guestbook 139) Rich Lohman said:

The old "Oiler Park" had a walkway collapse in 1977 shortly after the Drillers were born. During the customary parent club visit the Rangers were scrimmaging the Astros when a section of bleachers collapse under weight during a rainstorm. 1980 is when Robert Sutton coughed up the dough to build the stadium at its current location, after the voters turned down a bond issue or tax.

I was there for that first season in the new park and I defy anyone to identify any remaining structure of the original Sutton Stadium today. Drillers Stadium is a marvelous facility. We don't need fancy iron work or bricks, that place is a masterpiece. Finest park in the minors hands down.

I remember the old Oiler Park light standards stood for many years after the park was demolished. When did those finally come down?"

Thank you so much for the kind words about my work. As you might imagine, not all the comments I have received (especially in the Capitol) have been quite so appreciative!


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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 23, 2007 6:10 PM.

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