While the Lone Star State deliberates whether to follow Georgia’s lead, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott refused to throw out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ home opener in protest of Major League Baseball’s decision to move its All-Star Game from Atlanta.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has lambasted corporations that have criticized the measures under consideration in Austin as a “nest of liars.” They include Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dell Technologies, which is headquartered outside of Austin — both of which are major employers in the state and have issued statements opposing the proposals the legislature is considering.
As my colleague Amy Gardner reported, one state representative has even filed a constitutionally dubious amendment that would prohibit a state fund from giving any assistance to “an entity that publicly threatened any adverse reaction against this state based on any legislative or executive action related to election integrity that was proposed or taken in 2020, 2021, or 2022 by the legislature or the governor of this state.”
Texas already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. What state lawmakers are looking at would, among other things, narrow early voting hours, allow fewer polling places, and criminalize mistakes by election officials and volunteer poll workers.
It should not be forgotten that, as recently as 2019, Texas officials raised a baseless alarm — amplified in a tweet by then-President Donald Trump — that 58,000 non-citizens had voted in the state. It turned out that there was indeed fraud, but it was being committed by the officials themselves in an effort to purge the rolls of people who were legally and legitimately registered. The whole embarrassing and shameful mess led to the resignation of Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, an Abbott appointee.
Texas has long prided itself on a welcoming climate for business. But the increasingly ideological — and irrational — tilt of some of those who lead it has been a growing worry for corporations.
As last year’s elections showed, the predictions that increasingly diverse Texas is turning blue remain premature. No Democrat has been elected to statewide office since 1994, which means that winning the Republican primary was a sure bet of being elected in the fall.
But the legislature has been far more evenly split between the parties. Until a decade or so ago, lawmakers in Austin could usually find a way to work together, especially when it came to business-friendly issues.
So what is driving the latest ideological spasm? As long as we are talking about how Texas conducts its elections, one factor that merits more attention is dismally low voter turnout in primary contests and runoffs, which has made the Texas GOP hostage to the most extreme elements of the base. That is why, in recent years, state lawmakers have seemed more preoccupied with determining which bathroom transgender people should use than in figuring out how to finance the public school system.
In 2018, the Texas Association of Business tried to get Texans — regardless of their party — to vote in primary contests by launching a campaign it called “March Matters.” Association chief executive Jeff Moseley told me at the time: “We really want the legislature to talk about the Texas of tomorrow, rather than squabbling over ideological issues.”
Companies make money by paying attention to their customers, as well as their employees, and the decision by so many to speak up on voting rights issues is no doubt based in large part on what firms believe is good for business. It will be interesting to see whether they will be intimidated by howls and even threats of retribution from politicians whose own agenda is driven by their desire to do whatever it takes cling to power.
I, for one, am going to place my bet on the voice of the free enterprise system. Too bad Texas Republican leaders don’t want to listen to it any more.