Looking for a present for that special someone? Here’s a unique gift that literally keeps on giving: a national park!
Enjoying Hightower? How about a weekly email that gives you the full scoop?
That’s what Ralph Regula bought for his wife, Mary. What did it cost him? Nothing. He didn’t buy it with his money, silly – he used yours. Ralph, you see, is a Republican congress critter and a powerful member of the house appropriations committee.
A few years ago, Mary founded an outfit called the National First Ladies’ Library, and she wanted a proper home for it. So, in 2000, the subcommittee that Ralph just happens to chair created and funded the First Ladies’ National Historic Site, making it part of our National Park Service. Where is it located? Why, in Ralph’s district, of course.
Ralph’s gift just keeps giving. In addition to providing annual operating funds for Mary’s little historic site, Ralph has also used “earmarks” to slip more than $2 million in extra money to her project – all done with no public debate or vote. Plus, his subcomittee has provided a $2.5 million federal matching grant to renovate a bank building that Mary’s library group owns. In Washington, this is known as “pillow-talk pork.”
While Mary’s project officially is part our park system and gets 70 percent of its operating funds through the park service, the site is not operated by park professionals. Instead, Mary and her group run it. Also, in keeping with the family theme, the Regula’s daughter, Martha, works for the historic site as a librarian.
Managers of America’s other parks have seen their budgets slashed, but Mary’s miraculously seems to prosper. This is all the more amazing when you consider that it draws under 10,000 visitors a year. As one watchdog group has calculated, taxpayers shell out about $1000 for every visitor who comes to Mary’s park.
This is Jim Hightower saying… Did I mention that hubby Ralph is in line to be the next chairman of the full appropriations committee?
“The ‘National Park That Ralph Built’ Costs $1,000 Per Visitor,” June 19, 2006, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, www.peer.org.
“Many wives receive jewelry, but Mary Regula gets a national park,” Monterey Herald, June 18, 2006 .