Joe Barton isn't a household name to most Americans. But car companies will make him the toast of New York, at least for a few hours, during this week's Republican National Convention.
On Tuesday evening hundreds of "fans" will cheer Barton on at the historic Roseland Ballroom. Country music stars Clint Black and Jo Dee Messina will entertain. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is a sponsor of the event, called "Good Ol' Texas Honky Tonk."
Barton is a 10-term congressman from Texas. More important, he is the new chairman of the House of Representatives committee that has jurisdiction over such key industry issues as fuel economy, air quality and vehicle safety.
The reception is among dozens of unofficial events that will occur outside the official business at Madison Square Garden: renominating President Bush and Vice President
Cheney. Such activities are an orgy of unregulated coziness between moneyed special interests and people in power, self-styled good government groups say.
But automakers simply are "paying tribute to the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee," says Eron Shosteck, spokesman for the alliance, which represents the Big 3 and six-import brand automakers.