Why Continental's flight to Chicago might put Bill White in the Governor'smansion
Mayor Annise Parker and a gaggle of politicos, including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and representatives for Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, stood in front of TV cameras in the ceremonial room at Houston City Hall Monday afternoon trying to put on a brave face, much like Andy Roddick did when he lost to Roger Federer in last summer's Wimbledon final.
Nobody was very happy, though. Houston's hometown airline is leaving town and the best thing several officials could say about it was, "We will be the largest hub for the largest airline in the world."
Doesn't have much of a ring to it, does it?
United's takeover of Continental Airlines didn't come as much of a surprise, but it still hurts. Parker and others tried their hardest to put the best spin on a disappointing situation. No one knows how many of Continental's 14,000 jobs in Houston will be lost, but the mayor said she is optimistic that a lot of operational and support positions will remain, although she conceded that a number of high-paying executive jobs are headed north.
She also believes the merger will eventually create a lot of new jobs in Houston because Bush Intercontinental Airport has room for growth while Chicago's O'Hare Airport doesn't. The combined airline will fly to 370 destinations in 59 countries.
"Our pride is nicked just a little bit because the headquarters will be in Chicago, but this is a business town and we understand business decisions," Parker said.
While she may understand the decision, I, like a lot of others, don't. United's dominant role in the "merger" doesn't make much sense. Continental earns much higher mark from travelers, so you'd think that, at the very least, the Continental name would remain. At least United had the good sense to retain Continental CEO Jeff Smisek to run the airline and is keeping Continental's colors and logo font, although the result is a little unsettling.
A mock-up of a plane with the new United logo looks exactly like the old Continental, but with a different name. It's like the evil twin who has assumed the identity of her sister in a 1940s movie.
While a representative of Gov. Rick Perry touted the state's pro-business climate and such great selling points as no state income tax, no fuel tax, and a lower cost of living, he, like everyone else at the news conference, was at a loss for words to explain why, if Texas is such a hospitable place for business, did Continental decamp for Illinois?
I suspect politics played a part in it. And, I'm not the only one. As a high-level Republican insider explained, there's a perception out there that Texas is losing its political clout.
Although BAE Systems had manufactured Army trucks for nearly 20 years in Sealy, the Pentagon recently dropped production there and awarded a contract to a Wisconsin company located in the home district of U.S. Rep. David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Few doubt that a substantial number of NASA jobs will be cut at the Johnson Space Center and end up in the battleground state of Florida.
It's not much of a stretch to assume that United officials in Illinois, the home state of President Obama, believe they'll have an easier time in winning approval for the merger than if they had abandoned Chicago for Houston.
You might think such sentiments would hurt Bill White in his quest to become the state's next governor, but the former Houston mayor might well find a blueprint for victory by tapping into the idea that Texas would be better off with a Democrat in the state's top job. If he can convince enough middle-of-the-road voters that the state is suffering economically by being so closely identified with the Republican party and can get some of its clout back by electing him, he stands a good chance of winning.
Should that happen, White might be the greatest beneficiary of the United merger.