Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dallas auto dealers bought "croak-and-choke" with GOP, now feel ripped off

The money they "invested" in credit life insurance sold to them by the Republicans turns out to be a waste:

President George W. Bush's 12th-hour decision to lend $17.4 billion to General Motors and Chrysler may ease some of the pressures on their finances. But it might not relieve the tensions in a strained relationship between new-car dealers – many of whom are active politically – and the Republican Party.

Many area dealers say they were deeply disappointed that Republicans they had supported essentially put politics over the economy in opposing loans to GM and Chrysler.

Only three members of the area congressional delegation supported the loans – Democrats Eddie Bernice Johnson and Chet Edwards and Republican Joe Barton. North Texas is home to the GM Arlington plant, which employs about 2,500 people, and about 240 new-car dealerships.

"In general, the Democrats voted for it, and the Republicans did not," said influential local Ford dealer Sam Pack, the chairman of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association who traveled to Washington to meet with members of the Texas delegation. "This was partisan politics. And any of us who are concerned about the economy are disappointed with the Republican Party."...

"I am absolutely disappointed in them because this was the most critical vote in modern history," said Mr. Pack, who owns three Ford dealerships in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and is active in politics. ...

Carl Sewell, chairman of Dallas-based Sewell Automotive Cos., said he couldn't even get two members of the Texas delegation – both of whom he has supported – to return his calls.

"It calls our traditional relationship with our congressional leaders into question," said Mr. Sewell, also one of the most influential dealers in the U.S. "With the exception of President Bush, Democrats seem to be more aware of the importance of the auto industry and jobs than the Republicans."

Some of the Republicans' opposition was disingenuous, dealers said. Several who opposed aid to the Big Three represent states in the South and Southeast where foreign carmakers have built new plants. Others simply wanted more concessions from the UAW.

What kind of response did you get from Senators Cornyn and Hutchison, gentlemen? They voted in favor of letting your industry go under as well. Did they return your calls? And what does this translate to in terms of the 2010 governor's contest? Will you support Kay Bailey in her challenge against Rick Perry or not? How about the gaggle of conservatives, Democrat and Republican, vying to replace her in Washington whenever it is she finally decides to leave? Which ones do you like -- besides your fellow dealer Roger Williams, that is?

I suppose the answer depends in part on how much money you have left next year, or the year after. We'll wait patiently and see. Mr. Sewell certainly ought to be OK; he owns a Lexus dealership, after all.

I also look forward to reading the responses from Houston mega-dealers as well. What say you, Sterling McCall (Group 1)? Charlie Thomas (Champion)? Joe Myers? George DeMontrond? Ernie Guzman?

"'Damaged' is probably too strong to describe the relationship," said Drew Campbell, president of the New Car Dealers Association of Metropolitan Dallas. "But I think it has changed."

Mr. Campbell, a veteran of many political battles, doubts, however, that the divisions will be permanent.

"I was disappointed, too," Mr. Campbell said. "But it's like football, and there will be other games and different alliances."

Red McCombs in San Antonio used to own the Minnesota Vikings. I wonder if he thinks this is the first quarter or the fourth.

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