Is It Right For You
State Republicans vote to censure House Speaker Joe Straus
- Dallas Morning News
Straus urges employers to help get out the vote
Dallas Morning News 01/27/2018
A year ago, House Speaker Joe Straus was urging business leaders to get more active in state politics in the hope that they could hold off the bathroom bill and other divisive issues gaining traction in Austin.
Dozens of CEOs rose to the occasion, not immediately but eventually. And their unified opposition helped prevent an antitransgender law that would have harmed vulnerable Texans, the economy and the state’s reputation.
On Monday, Straus made a similar appeal in North Texas, encouraging employers and individuals to get out the vote for the March 6 primary. That’s when most races are decided here. A larger turnout, he said, would force lawmakers to be accountable to more Texans, not just their base voters in the primary.
“I believe it will also lead to a more pragmatic approach to governing, an approach that values collaboration, seriousness and solutions,” Straus said.
Straus was greeted as a hero and received two standing ovations from a crowd of nearly 400 at the meeting of the North Texas Commission in Irving. He’s widely viewed as a traditional, pro-business Republican who tries to avoid wedge issues to focus on public education, transportation and infrastructure.
The question is whether he’s the last of a breed. To block the bathroom bill, Straus had to square off against the governor, lieutenant governor, Senate and most members of the House.
That burnished his reputation and he was named Texan of the Year by The Dallas Morning News. But last fall, Straus said he would not run for re-election.
Social conservatives and tea party activists have long targeted him, and Straus was censured by state Republicans in January.
“I’ve discovered one of the sad ironies of politics,” Straus said. “The best way to start drawing larger crowds is to stop running for re-election.”
He did not mention any political opponents by name but made a few references to the deep divide within the Republican Party. He praised Republican Glen Whitley, a longtime Tarrant County judge who was in the crowd.
Whitley has criticized state lawmakers for shorting public education and forcing local governments to raise property taxes. Now Austin wants to cap local taxes because they’ve grown so large.
“Judge Whitley is a rare figure in Texas these days: He’s actually less popular with the Texas Senate than I am,” Straus said. “But judge, that’s what happens when you tell the truth.”
In a recent op-ed, Whitley went further than complaining about education funding and local control. He called out some of the major backers of the conservative movement pushing the state even further to the right.
“For me,” Whitley wrote in The News, “if a candidate takes money from Empower Texans, Midland oilman Tim Dunn, or billionaire energy entrepreneurs the Wilks brothers, I will vote for someone else or not at all.”
Those backers didn’t come up during Monday’s event.
The North Texas Commission — which includes companies, chambers of commerce and local governments — recently created an advocacy coalition to speak up for business in Austin.
The coalition is nonpartisan and doesn’t endorse candidates. It’s focused on increasing turnout for the primary and has urged employers to engage their workers in the process.
Alliance Operating Services has provided information on polling places and encouraged employees to vote. The small company, which operates free-trade zones at DFW Airport and elsewhere in the country, has many legislative issues that could affect it, said co-owner Kathy Wilkins.
“Toll roads and NAFTA are really important to us,” she said.
Fidelity Investments, which has over 5,000 employees in North Texas, has been holding town hall meetings on voting and political issues. It had planned to hold four meetings but had to bump that up to nine, said spokesman Scott Orr.
“We’re not telling anyone how to vote,” Orr told the audience. But “I guarantee your employees want to hear from you that it’s important to vote.”
School teachers are pushing a similar agenda, promoting “a culture of voting.” But even that’s led to a backlash from a leading conservative group and the attorney general, who warn of using public money for electioneering.
That’s an indication of how seemingly safe issues can become politically charged. But to Straus, who’s faced similar attacks from the Republican right wing, it’s just the latest example of how things are out of whack in Austin.
“Does a culture of voting sound evil to you?” Straus said to the crowd.
Some educators, businesses and so-called moderate Republicans want to slow the state’s rightward tilt, but they’re facing an uphill climb. Four years ago, tea party favorites Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton won the GOP runoff by a 2-to-1 margin over more traditional Republicans. Patrick, who championed the bathroom bill, is trying to strengthen his hand by endorsing candidates in the March primary.
Getting the business community more engaged will require a long-term commitment, Straus said.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, but you’ve started that effort,” he added.
If more people vote, he’s confident they’ll make a difference in the next Legislature.
Judge Whitley might even get out of the doghouse, he joked.
“Good luck,” shouted someone in the audience.
“There’s November, too,” Straus said.
Links / News
Copyright © Alliance Operating Services 2017