The Atlanta Braves won the World Series in stunning fashion, a wonderful story of overachievers who defied all expectations. But as we rejoice, we should remember their triumph literally came at a price for every Cobb County taxpayer.
This column appeared in March, 2019, and I mean no disrespect to the late Tim Lee, the key county official at the time:
When former Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee, sat down with executives representing Liberty Media Corporation’s Atlanta Braves, he found himself negotiating with a school of powerful and monied barracudas.
We know what went down. Behind closed doors and out of sight and hearing of Cobb County taxpayers, Lee cut a woeful deal with Liberty, one in which y’all are footing nearly $400 million for the Braves’ stadium, a glaring example of corporate welfare taking precedence over Cobb citizens.
Liberty Media Corporation doesn’t need my money or yours. It has a market cap of over $8 billion. John Malone, Liberty’s CEO, has a net worth of $7.5 billion. The Braves made a $94 million profit in 2018.
It was not the first time Braves executives and their corporate masters in Englewood, Colorado worked this kind of taxpayer squeeze. Over in Gwinnett County, they’re on the hook for a ballpark where the Braves’ Triple A team plays, a deal that has never lived up to all the promises made by the Braves or county officials. More recently, Sarasota County, Florida taxpayers covered half of the cost of a new $100 million spring training facility and minor league stadium for the Braves.
“Over the last 15 years, the Braves have extracted nearly half a billion in public funds for four new homes, each bigger and more expensive than the last…They showered attention on local officials unaccustomed to dealing with a big-league franchise and, in the end, left most of the cost on the public ledger,” reported Bloomberg Businessweek in April, 2016 under the headline “The Braves Play Taxpayers Better Than They Play Baseball.”
Lee basically presented the new Cobb County stadium to voters as a fait accompli to the consternation of tea party activists and others jealous of how their hard-earned dollars are spent by county officials. The predictable howls of outrage followed, but the deal was done in the blink of an eye.
“If it had leaked out,” Braves then-President John Schuerholz admitted in 2013, “this deal would not have gotten done...more people would have started taking the position of, ‘We don’t want that to happen.’”
Or maybe not. Just maybe, if Lee had handled things in a principled way, remembering his priority was Cobb taxpayers not Liberty Media, he would have earned public support for the deal. In the end, voter anger over the stadium caught up with Tim Lee. Rather than ensuring his re-election by grateful Cobb taxpayers, he was defeated by past Commission Chairman Mike Boyce in 2016.
Liberty Media Corporation, meanwhile, is reaping the manifold financial benefits of the deal, while Cobb County taxpayers continue to pay for a stadium Liberty Media could have and should have built with zero public funding. But that’s not how those barracudas swim. Why spend our money when we can spend yours? That’s a much better deal for Wall Street.
Speaking of sports. The University of Georgia’s great running back Herschel Walker showed up at the Cobb County Republican Party’s breakfast last Saturday and invited people who disagree with his politics to leave America.
What a sophomoric statement, but one I’ve come to expect from the right; it’s our way or the highway.
Walker says Democrats don’t love America. Except we do, not in his childish way, but in an adult way. Rather than ignore her many faults – rampant white supremacy comes to mind - we call them out, hoping to achieve a more perfect union.
The GOP Senate candidate spoke at that busy little beehive of conservative politics, the Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta. Walker also thinks those who don’t believe in the Constitution are pariahs. He should tell that to his ex-employer, the New Jersey Generals’ former owner, who used the Constitution as a doormat for four years.
Oddly, Walker’s walk-on music was the Battle Hymn of the Republic, a 19th century abolitionist anthem calling for trampling out the grapes of wrath - slavery.
“(Y)ou got to acknowledge my Lord Jesus Christ…” added Walker. Cobb County Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, members of other religions, agnostics, and atheists will say, no we don’t, and here’s why: religion has no role in America’s secular politics.
Walker went on to mouth the usual GOP bromides, proving he has no grasp of how to unite anyone other than far right conservatives. I’m about as prepared to run the football for the Dawgs as Herschel Walker is to serve in the United States Senate representing all Georgians.