The presidential campaign has taken an unlikely turn in a dispute between Republican rivals Donald Trump and Jeb Bush that now reaches into Texas.
In Saturday night’s GOP debate, Bush, a former Florida governor, took issue with billionaire developer Trump benefiting from eminent domain, the government’s power to acquire private property for a project, on a development in Atlantic City, N.J.
By Sunday and Monday, Trump and his campaign went after the Bush family for the same thing.
That is how the Texas Rangers’ baseball stadium in Arlington — built in the early 1990s, when former President George W. Bush was the team’s managing partner, and now known as Globe Life Park — suddenly found itself thrust into the middle of a presidential debate faceoff.
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“Eminent domain is a very important thing,” Trump said on ABC News. “Jeb Bush doesn’t understand what it means, and if you look into the Bush family — I found this five minutes ago — they used eminent domain for the stadium in Texas, where they own, I guess, a piece of the Texas Rangers.”
ABC host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that the then-managing partner of the team was Jeb Bush’s brother, not the candidate.
“That doesn’t matter,” Trump said. “It was the Bush family. They used private eminent domain. He didn’t tell anybody this. So, I mean, he should have told people.”
Trump repeated his complaint Monday on CNN while Jeb Bush was on Fox & Friends.
“I don’t think that there should be any use — private use. Eminent domain should not be used for private purposes. Period. I don’t know what my brother did or not. I have my views on this,” said Jeb Bush.
Freddy Ford, spokesman for the office of George W. Bush, said in an email, “President Bush won’t be responding to Donald Trump.”
“Eminent domain should be used for infrastructure, for public right of way, for the things that it’s always been used for,” Jeb Bush said Monday. “That’s more than appropriate. But not for a — not to take away a home from an elderly woman so you can build a stinking parking lot for limos for your casino.”
Trump did not succeed in that case, in which a widow stood up to the casino authority that offered her $250,000 so it could tear down her house next door to a Trump casino.
So is this like what happened in Tarrant County, Texas?
“Here’s Jeb Bush criticizing Donald Trump, when George Bush got the city of Arlington to use eminent domain,” said James Runzheimer, an Arlington attorney who fought public funding of the stadium. “If it were not for public money and eminent domain, George Bush would probably not have been president.”
The stadium, which opened in 1994, is owned by the city of Arlington, and voters approved a 1/2 -cent increase in the sales tax rate to pay for building it. One family refused to sell at the price offered by the city, ended up winning a lawsuit and received $7.1 million, which was ultimately paid by the Texas Rangers. And the 14 acres at issue: now used for parking lots.
But that is where the similarity ends with Trump, former Arlington Mayor Richard Greene said in an interview.
“There is a great difference in the Trump project and the ballpark at Arlington,” Greene said. “That is a project that was owned and operated by Donald Trump. We’ve got a public project approved by the voters of Arlington.”
Tom Schieffer, a Fort Worth-based consultant who was then the president of the Texas Rangers team, said in an interview, “Eminent domain is always a sensitive issue. We never had eminent domain — the city of Arlington did.”
But he’s glad they used it. “It was very beneficial to the project. There’s no question that was beneficial to the Rangers.”
And he points out that it was a public project that has benefited the public.
Eminent domain has been used frequently for sports stadiums and other major public developments in Texas and nationwide for years. Arlington also used the procedure in some instances during development of AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Staff researcher Cathy Belcher contributed to this report.