Businesses Need to Re-Engage in the Republican Primary

JENNIFER WAISATH HARRIS, TEXAS MONTHLY

Texas is wide open for business, former Texas Governor Rick Perry used to say. It was the unofficial state motto. Texas racked up awards from Forbes to Site Selection magazine and CNBC, which all fawned over the Lone Star State and our “Texas Miracle” of economic prowess. Well into the aughts, state leaders plugged along with low taxes, a predictable regulatory environment, and plenty of incentives at the local and state level to attract corporate relocations and expansions at a frenzied pace.

But a funny thing happened along the way. Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and an increasing percentage of the Texas Legislature strayed from their pro-business, small government roots into something that looks a lot more like a populist, divisive, Trumpian Texas. That far-right social agenda plays well with the GOP base, after all: The relatively small portion of the Republican and general electorate that actually take the time to show up at the polls in March.

Low taxes became an ongoing push to reduce the state’s share of costs for things like public education and roads, saddling local taxpayers with the burden. Instead of small government and local control—long the mantra of Texas Republicans—some in the GOP began pushing the antithesis of those ideas. Instead of solving school finance and reducing local taxpayers’ burden in funding public schools, we got a bathroom bill. Instead of solving the state’s transportation woes, we got a sanctuary cities bill. As more Texas voters start to see their property tax bills spiraling higher, and that “tax cut” that the state’s top leadership likes to tout fails to materialize, is the gig up?

It’s around the bathroom bill that businesses really started to realize how far the Legislature and its state leaders had strayed from the pro-business mantra that lifted the GOP into its dominant position in the state, dating back to 1998 when it took every single statewide elected office.