C.A. Stubbs believes today’s Tea Party movement could have sparked 25 years ago if only he had only worked a little harder. “We had a 75,000-member army, people that followed us religiously, signed our petitions, that sort of thing,” Stubbs said from his Medical Center-area retirement home. “If I had of been a better salesmen, I probably could have pulled that off. … We just didn’t have a name that would elicit such imagination as that.”
Of course the 89-year-old recently retired conservative organizer who was prominently featured on the Current’s first cover had other strikes against him back when he was pressing his case to cap city spending in the 1980s. For starters, the former U.S. Air Force computer expert and founder and president of the Homeowner Taxpayer Association was up against the popular Henry Cisneros who had already been reelected twice by overwhelming margins with promises to raise the city’s standard of living. Also, Reagan was already in the White House putting policies of “trickle-down theory” into place. At least nationally, there was nothing for hardcore conservatives to revolt against.
And yet Stubbs seemed to repeatedly wind up on the losing side of the fight: He opposed collective bargaining rights for police officers and fire fighters, worked against the construction of the Alamodome, and fought to keep SAWS from spiking public water supplies with fluoride. His high-profile quest to undermine Cisneros’ proposed $30-million public safety bond likewise failed. Stubbs wanted to cap city spending so that it never outpaced what he termed the city’s “ability to pay,” telling one of the Current’s staff writers at the time, “We’re kickin’ the top of the ant pile. I’ve been 50,000 miles in the last two and a half years across Bexar County. One in 10 people anywhere in the county understands anything about taxing and budget. One person in 10,000 has ever even seen a city budget, and that’s deliberate.” Only the city’s position seemed impenetrable: In 1986, the year the spending cap went to the public for a vote, the city had just received the Government Finance Officers Association’s “Distinguished Budget Award” for the third year in a row. The Current editors called the ability-to-pay formula — which Stubbs calculated by adding the consumer price index (a measure of inflation) with the annual percentage increase of population growth — “foolish by all rational and realistic standards.” It was soundly defeated with 66 percent of the vote.
And yet to the extent that the state Legislature pushed through a seriously slimmed-down budget in a huge deficit year and national lawmakers are rallying for a spending cap in Washington, Stubbs is counting his time in politics a success.
He saw more favorable results, however, in his push for term limits. Joined by other powerful civic groups, Stubbs succeeded in 1990 in limiting elected leaders to a mere two, two-year terms in office. It wasn’t until 2008 that the limits were eased to four, two-year terms. In between those years, between the Cisneros and Phil Hardberger administrations, Stubbs says city spending dropped precipitously.
“We dropped it … until Hardberger,” Stubbs said, when spending started to grow again. “And I think we’re going to see the same thing with [Mayor Julián] Castro. They’re out to recoup the glory days of the Cisneros era, I suspect. But I’m not running the show anymore. … If I were running it, there would sure be a lot of excitement right now.”