When the Atlanta Braves became the latest Major League Baseball franchise to demand a new stadium to play in, they ran into a huge tide of opposition to their move from downtown Atlanta to the suburbs north of the city.
But instead of protests from fans in their current home downtown, the team has gotten an earful from furious Tea Party activists in Cobb County, the Republican-dominated portion of the metro area that was once the heart of Newt Gingrich’s congressional district and will now be home to the 60-acre site the team has chosen for its new stadium.
The Tea Party anger is focused on the county’s usually small-government, anti-tax Republican board of commissioners, which enticed the baseball team with a commitment of $300 million in public funds to go toward a new $672 million stadium for the ball club. But while the county commission called the stadium deal a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” the local Tea Party activists called foul, accusing the commission of rushing to a vote without enough public review and opening up the latest front in the war between Tea Party groups and the Republican establishment that pushed for the deal.
“I’ve had several members of the Chamber of Commerce tell me that the Tea Party needs to stick to federal issues and leave local issues like this alone,” said Debbie Dooley, the head of the Atlanta Tea Party. “Well, that’s not going to happen.”
Dooley had mounted a significant opposition to the plan, which she called “a done deal from the beginning,” and formed an unusual coalition among Tea Party activists, the Sierra Club, Common Cause, and other groups from across the political spectrum that opposed the deal for their own reasons.
At the public meeting before the commission voted four-to-one to approve the deal Tuesday night, commissioners heard discussion on “public private partnerships,” new local sales taxes, new taxes on hotels and apartments near the proposed site, and plenty of feedback from Dooley’s coalition and voters opposed to the deal, which was announced just two weeks earlier and did not include an environmental impact statement nor an economic impact statement.
“We’re spending millions of Cobb County taxpayer dollars on this deal and we’re going to take two weeks and ram it though?” said Patricia Hay, a local resident. “It reminds me of Obamacare and how they did that. At first we knew nothing and they said it was a wonderful deal, and now we’re finding out it’s not so wonderful.”
Susan Stanton from the Georgia Campaign for Liberty, an offshoot of Ron Paul’s libertarian organization, delivered a petition with 791 signatures, tagging the deal as corporate welfare for the Braves organization, while Debbie Dooley said the vote showed that the sole Democrat on the panel, Lisa Cupid, was more conservative than any of the four Republicans who approved the deal.
“What was unique about tonight was that the lone Democrat on the Cobb County Commission voted against a tax increase and voted for transparency and openness to allow more time for study, while the four Republicans voted for a tax increase and denied the people a chance to study it.” She said, calling the agreement with the Braves a sweetheart deal for the team that was forged behind closed doors by the area’s “good ole boy network,” including the powerful Chamber of Commerce.
“There is a real disconnect between the Tea Parties and Chamber of Commerce, not just here, but across the nation," Dooley said. "At one time being a chamber candidate used to be a good thing and now it’s not. “
Ben Mathis, incoming chair of the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce, addressed the split between the two factions. “Many of those who are opposed to this project share my personal philosophical approach and my political affiliation,” he said. “I had someone accost me in the town hall and said I was now part of the establishment. I share their concern about government, but this is not a quarrel with our government in Washington. Our government here is proven conservative.”
But Debbie Dooley and her Tea Party partners say there’s no such thing as a conservative government. And they say their fight in Cobb County isn’t over. Her coalition is preparing a legal challenge to the stadium financing plan; planning a recall petition for county commission chairman, Tim Lee; and has already recruited a candidate to challenge Helen Goreham for her seat on the commission in her Republican primary for 2014.
The challenger, Neva Lent, chairs the Regional Republican Women’s Club and calls herself a conservative, but she also says the Republicans on the Cobb Commission acted anything but conservative in the stadium deal.
“I think all everyone is looking for on the front end of this is some transparency without having to fight for it,” she said. “Most of the commissioners are Republican and typically Republicans don’t raise taxes and burden citizens with paying out more money. It just seems like that’s what’s happening here.”