TAMPA -- Some days you just can't make a nickel. With just 18 shopping days until the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the problems mount. Even scheduling a country singer for one of the convention's associated hoe-downs is proving to be a problem.
Residents of Tampa are beginning to realize what a monumental disruption the four-day political rodeo and masa-cree at the end of the month will be. Downtown Tampa will be in virtual lock-down, with most businesses closing down or closing early to get out of the way of 50,000+ convention delegates, cops, journalists, demonstrators, gawkers, and various convention worker-bees taking over the area.
Nothing, it seems, has been easy or cheap. The federals have contributed $50 million in tax money for security for the convention, which substantively is little more than a back-drop for four days of political speeches few will watch. (The Tampa Bay Rays will play the Texas Rangers at Arlington the first three evenings of the convention -- it's a safe bet that these games will get higher TV ratings in the Bay Area than the speeches.) It will take all of that money and all the local and regional cops to ride herd on the thousands of demonstrators, noisily, and in some cases destructively, representing every left-wing and anarchist cause known to man.
It's a dead-bang cinch that what takes place on Tampa's streets over the four days will be more dramatic than the speeches. The good news on this front is that both Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee and Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor are competent, no-nonsense cops with considerable assets at their disposal. Though badly outnumbered, they will be a match for the vandals.
It's not clear that the local host committee has raised the money it promised to raise to support the operatically expensive convention. Not nearly enough locals have volunteered to do the unpaid fetching and toting and schlepping around of delegates and other officials that's needed.
And speaking of unpaid, local political consultants have complained privately that their services are expected to be provided pro-bono while hot shots out of Washington are being handsomely paid for theirs. Other vendors expecting to provide products or services for the convention have found that arrangements have already been made with out-of-town companies. Some hoteliers have found the RNC less than a dream to work with. More than one local politico has lately been heard to lament: "Tell me again why we wanted to have this here."
So that the RNC doesn't feel too picked on here, let's be clear that similar complaints are being heard in Charlotte. Politics is, among other things, a very big business. And the folks with the money like to keep it themselves. Hardly a shocker.
In addition to these very human problems surrounding the convention, Mother Nature also has her thumb on the scale, not to Tampa's advantage. The weather service reported that the average heat index -- the famous "feels like" measure that considers both temperature and humidity -- for the hottest part of August 27, the first day of the convention, is 105. Over the four-day period of the convention, the heat index has reached 111. It doesn't cool off much at night. If demonstrators get too frisky, they run a bigger risk from heat stroke than from the cops.
It's not even clear where Florida convention delegates will stay for the four days. The Republican National Committee is indulging a snit with the Republican Party of Florida because Florida held its presidential primary at a date the RNC considered too early. For this indiscretion the national party decided to stash Florida's convention delegates in an adjoining county, more than an hour's drive from the action (such as it will be). To relieve the accommodation problem, I suggested to RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry that he park most of the Florida delegation at the 30,800 square-foot home of Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, less than a mile from the convention center. Derek will be otherwise occupied during the convention. Curry laughed at the suggestion -- but he didn't say no.
With all these problems and contentions and pettiness you'd think scheduling a country singer would be, comparatively, a breeze. Wrong again. Even this is playing out like a George Jones and Tammy Wynette song.
Until early this week things were fine. Wildly popular troubadour Willie Nelson was enlisted to play a benefit for military veterans scheduled during the convention. OK, his politics are dopey, and his preferred policies on the weed aren't exactly consistent with that of most Republicans. But his music is magic, his personality compelling, and what a line the folks putting the benefit together could have used: "We've got Willie Nelson; they've got Slick Willie."
But it wasn't to be. Willie backed out citing a scheduling conflict. But not to worry, Randy Travis was available and signed, so says the Tampa Bay Times. Travis is a singer with a pleasing, traditional country sound and personally more conservative than Willie. It's been a while since Randy's hits: "On the Other Hand," "Storms of Life," "Diggin' Up Bones," "Honky Tonk Side of Town," et al. Lately he's been devoting his time to gospel music. Good backup, eh?
It was until Randy ran amuck. The Associated Press reported Travis was arrested Wednesday near Tioga, Texas, and charged with driving while intoxicated and felony retaliation and obstruction. According to the AP, police reports say Travis was naked at the scene, threatened to kill the arresting officers, and refused to take a sobriety test. A distinctly un-conservative evening. Travis was charged in February of this year with public intoxication.
This is sad news for the group that wanted to do something for veterans, which doesn't need this kind of distraction but does need a country singer. It's even sadder news for Travis, for his family and friends, and for his many fans, which include me.
RNC spokesman James Davis told me the Nelson then Travis concert was not an RNC event, but just one of the many events scheduled around the convention by other groups. And it's hardly one of the more important issues surrounding the convention and the historic election it is a part of. But it does go to show you. Some days you just can't make a nickel.