We are now thirteen days and counting past a politician-inspired coup attempt by a mob of racists at our nation’s Capitol ahead of the certification of the 2020 presidential election by the Electoral College. In those thirteen days, major newspapers, businesses, trade organizations, unions, professional organizations, and nonprofits have clearly denounced the behavior of the rioters and the complicit representatives and public figures who encouraged them. Thus far, Houston’s largest business chamber, the Greater Houston Partnership, has not publicly weighed in.
Houston’s business leaders have long engaged on political issues facing the nation. Early twentieth century Houstonian entrepreneurs in our city such as Jesse Jones, William and Oveta Hobby, James Elkins, and William Vinson consistently discussed the issues of their day in Suite 8F of the Lamar Hotel. When The Great Depression hit, Jones gathered the city’s wealthiest people to pool their money to keep local banks afloat. During World War II, that same group of entrepreneurs drove the oil production operation that powered the allied war effort. Whenever something significant happened in Houston, these interests, for better or worse, made the decisions.
It’s no secret that GHP is an extension of the 8F crowd tradition. GHP membership boasts Fortune 500 companies and thousands of businesses. As Evan Mintz said of the chamber in the Texas Monthly, “During Houston’s first oil boom the engaged business leaders would secretly convene at Suite 8F at the Lamar Hotel to discuss how to keep taxes low and pull political strings. Now they meet at the Greater Houston Partnership headquarters downtown to promote international trade and immigration reform.”
Even if someone believed that all business chambers, regardless of the news of the day should avoid social-political issues, GHP certainly hasn’t. The same day as the coup attempt, GHP spoke up in favor of Governor Abbott’s COVID restrictions. Two days later, they praised Mayor Turner’s 50-50 Parks initiative.
Each year, the GHP hosts the most powerful politicians in the State of Texas. Many of those politicians were huddled behind a locked door guarded by armed security against a mob of white supremacists during the insurrection. One of those officials is Senator Ted Cruz, whose wife Heidi Cruz is a GHP board member.
The violence in Washington was also a direct affront on racial justice, a value GHP features prominently as a priority on its website. A Confederate flag was carried through the Capitol Rotunda. A man wore a sweatshirt that said “Camp Auschwitz.” The rioters set up gallows and carried zip ties. Nazis, Qanoners, Three Percenters, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, America Firsters, and Boogaloo Boys set on civil war invaded and assaulted the seat of power for a major branch of the United States Government. This is a racial justice issue, and what major players in Houston do or do not say is reflective of not just them but of us all.
To GHP, Houston isn’t just a cash cow. It’s the place they have committed to building with fellow Houstonians. We all pay for these roads, but more than that, we all contribute to Houston culture with our time, our dedication, and our minds, and our hearts. The spirit and soul Houstonians put into our vibrant city is what makes life in Houston worth living.
This transcends partisanship. In this unprecedented time, it is imperative upon every institution, both public and private, to speak up. Especially if that institution is highly influential. In the most diverse city in the world, a city that calls for inclusivity and inscribes on the wall of city hall “The People are the City”, we must be able to count on GHP to stand up for what is right.
Some of GHP’s largest member companies have already taken a position. Dow Chemical has said it won’t donate to politicians who opposed the election results, directly referencing the “principles of democracy and the peaceful transfer of power” in its statement.
Nevermind any of the hypocrisy or complexities that come with statements such as these. I’m aware Dow Chemical has its hands dirty, and the big business community isn’t the most stalwart defender of democracy. Still, there is a fight for power going on in every institution right now, and they are a voice that has been conspicuously silent.
Right is right. If GHP truly loves our city as much as we all do, it must be willing to protect it. It’s time to call for the ouster of seditious politicians like Ted Cruz, even if his wife Heidi sits on your board.
Daniel J. Cohen is the chair of Indivisible Houston, a progressive advocacy group.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images