For decades, Texans Republicans have justified the cozy relationships they’ve enjoyed with big business by celebrating Texas as one of the best states in the nation to do business in. Republicans in the state legislature and on commissioner’s courts across the state worked diligently to keep taxes and regulations low, and they could always count on significant contributions from grateful business interests.
And in a state like Texas, where there are no limits on how much individuals and corporations can donate, that money is often used as an accelerant by entrepreneurial lobbyists who can find a quick way to gain access and favor for their clients.
That’s why it’s so downright comical to see people like Governor Greg Abbott and Lite Gov Dan Patrick attempting to frame themselves as anti-corporate crusaders in the wake of some of the largest employers in Texas revolting against the Texas GOP’s attack on voting rights.
Abbott and Patrick have been two of the most dogmatically vocal cheerleaders for the “Texas is a great place to do business,” message, so Patrick’s decision to issue a salty statement aimed at American Airlines, the fourth-largest company in the state, when the airline came out against SB 7 raised some eyebrows.
This is all familiar turf for Patrick, who in 2017 led the charge for a hateful and impractical “bathroom bill” that would have codified discrimination against trans Texans, but saw his effort ultimately scuttled when the Texas Association of Business led a growing coalition of companies opposed to the effort, and major national companies and brands like the NCAA began threatening to cancel long-planned events in the state if lawmakers didn’t relent.
Patrick and the Texas GOP are taking a more aggressive posture this session, attempting to fight back against companies airing their moral objections to bad legislation before opposition to the bills grows so large it can’t be ignored. It’s a shrewd piece of politics for Patrick, always eager to ingratiate himself to the Trump wing of the party and said to long covet a shot at the governor’s mansion or a U.S. Senate seat, because it allows him to stoke the type of populist fervor Trump tapped into so effectively and keep himself on the front lines of the latest phony culture war.
That aggressive posture has everything to do with the end result of this legislation if it passes: it will make it harder for Texans to vote, and the restrictions will disproportionately impact the working poor and people of color, and that will help Republicans keep their tenuous grasp on power in a rapidly changing state.
But what Texas Republicans don’t seem to understand is that they have consistently overlooked what it is about Texas that keeps drawing more companies to the state each day. While the low taxes and lack of regulation might help, companies are moving to Texas for the people that live here, who they can potentially hire, and that fact scares the daylights out of Texas Republicans.
Why you may ask? Because the workforce that is drawing these companies to Texas in droves isn’t an aging generation of energy sector workers. It’s the same emerging generation of Texans, younger and more diverse, that has propelled the historic gains Democrats have achieved in the state over the last few cycles.
And, as the state continues to grow younger and more diverse, big companies like American Airlines and Dell (which also came out against SB 7) have to contend with a customer base that isn’t afraid to walk away from companies that don’t share their values and employees who are more willing to voice their concerns in the workplace than earlier generations.
Those are two powerful headwinds for any company to overcome, and Texas Republicans have found themselves staking out positions that could ultimately harm the bottom line for any company that expresses a modicum of support for the legislation.
And that, we all know, is where the corporations will draw the line, and many have already begun to sound alarm bells over the legislation.
So Patrick and other Republicans are trying to counter-organize against the same folks who have cut their campaign checks for decades. It’s an interesting gambit and one that is almost destined to fail because the Texas GOP has left such a lengthy paper trail documenting their devotion to corporate interests.
It is a strategy that is unlikely to pay off with Texans, who as of this writing have more reasons to distrust our state government than they have at any time in recent memory. As the state continues to reel from the winter storms that killed at least 200 of our neighbors and a Covid-19 pandemic that has killed almost 50,000 Texans and infected nearly 3 million, it makes very little sense to most Texans that these bills should be such a big priority for Patrick and the Texas GOP.
And, perhaps fatally for Patrick and his cohort, not all Republicans are particularly pleased with this push either. Long time Tarrant County Judge B. Glen Whitney, who serves as the chief executive of the largest swing county in the state, put it simply: “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. We’ve had problems with our electric grid. And they’re screwing around with how many machines we can have in a polling place?”
Texas Republicans are playing a dangerous game, and in 2022 it may very well backfire.
Photo: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images