Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Hansen's duplicity teaches a lesson

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

Beyond the hilarity of a Seattle hedge fund billionaire making a donkey out of himself while trying to manipulate Sacramento politics, there is a larger point to be made about representative government in the state capital.

It is alive and well here, no matter how sleazy Chris Hansen was while secretly funneling $100,000 to aid a local campaign trying to force a public vote on Sacramento's proposed downtown arena.

Only months ago, Hansen was bidding hundreds of millions to relocate the Kings to Seattle. Then, only weeks after losing out, he financed efforts that strike at key financial interests of the new Kings owners who bested him.

"Unbelievable," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Yes, it was.

That the entire farce blew up in Hansen's face last week was comedy at its finest – and an example of representative government exacting punishment on those who flout state campaign law.

That the local anti-arena group is in complete disarray as a result is also representative government in action. It's proof you can't win an initiative campaign when your primary funding source breaks the law, tries to hide and then comes clean only when the state's political watchdog agency files a lawsuit.

That there isn't a single individual or group in Sacramento with money or political clout willing to back anti-arena forces is representative government, too.

In a town where you can drum up formidable opposition to anything, the anti-arena forces are – how to put this diplomatically? – kind of hapless.

Once you strip away the anti-arena signatures gathered in Sacramento since late June – work done by signature gatherers paid with Hansen money that went unreported in violation of campaign laws – you don't have much.

This isn't a failing of representative government, but a reflection of it. It's not the fault of the pro-arena side if the anti-arena forces are at loose ends.

I hear Sacramento people ask all the time: Shouldn't we debate whether Sacramento should use public money to fund a downtown arena that will be used by the Kings?

We should and we are. We've been having this debate in various forms for a decade.

Putting an initiative on a ballot to challenge the arena funding is one form of a debate and one form of representative government, but not the only one.

A 7-2 vote in favor of the arena by members of the Sacramento City Council is also representative government. So is a broad coalition of business, labor and citizen support for the arena throughout Sacramento.

Let us not be confused or distracted by Hansen's carnival of dumb.

If people want to force a public vote on the arena, then raise money to gather signatures and do it legally. Report your contributions, and their sources, on time, according to state law. Instruct your signature gatherers to be truthful while collecting signatures. Tell them it's a lie to call the funding mechanism for the downtown arena a "tax."

Oh, and remember this: You lose the high ground of political transparency when the Fair Political Practices Commission sues your side for a lack of political transparency. That's how Hansen's ploy was revealed last week, doing great damage to the local anti-arena campaign – and to Hansen's prospects of landing an NBA team for Seattle.

It still boggles the mind.

After losing out on the Kings, the smart move would have been for Hansen to suck up to NBA owners until he secured an NBA team for the Emerald City.

Instead, three weeks after the NBA shot down his bid Hansen secretly cut a check to anti-arena forces.

Hansen glossed over the truth Friday with a mea culpa built on the premise that he funded the anti-arena campaign because he got lost in the "heat of battle" with Sacramento over the Kings.

It's a cute little excuse, but the time lag exposes Hansen's true motive as spite.

The anti-arena folks say they are driven by the desire to have a "debate" about the arena, but that doesn't add up either.

They want to kill the arena – just as Hansen did.

That's fine, but be honest.

And if you can't get the arena issue on the ballot or you lose at the polls, don't emulate Chris Hansen. Don't act the fool and refuse to admit defeat to a stronger movement of people who want a downtown arena and the Kings in Sacramento.

Don't scream about letting the people decide when they don't decide your way.

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Back columns, Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.