How Not to Attract Business to Texas

I read not long ago that Governor Abbott said he will “go anywhere, anytime to continue keeping Texas No. 1 in the nation for attracting jobs and attracting businesses.”  After Abbott’s first six months as Governor, I think we’ll do better attracting business to Texas if he just stays home and acts sensibly [read:  keeps his mouth shut].  My advice to the Guv is, “Don’t do anything [else] stupid!”

When CEO’s of companies as large as GE, or as small as a five-person startup, think about where to locate, they consider not only the tax and regulatory burden –what we Texans call “the bidness climate” —  but also the health, welfare, morale and anticipated productivity of their employees.  Almost everything emanating from the state capital during the first six months of the Abbott Era tilts the scales the other way, and virtually guarantees that companies whose CEO’s would otherwise consider relocating here to take advantage of low taxes, less regulation, and nonunion workers will not do so.

Governor Abbott came into office needing to distance himself, if only slightly, from his reputation outside the state.  His oft-quoted signature line about his tenure as Texas Attorney General, when speaking to a tea party group two years ago [“I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home”] undoubtedly was red meat to his base, but doesn’t go over in GE’s home state of Connecticut.

Abbott’s first immense misstep came after just a few months in office as Governor when he pandered to a small group of loonies who were worried about routine military exercises that were to be carried out in central Texas – the Jade Helm exercises.   The U.S. military might have been forgiven for thinking that Texans would welcome them with open arms.  But there are always fringe elements and, unfortunately, the Governor heard them.   In response to some worried letters and emails from people who apparently expected black helicopters to spearhead an invasion of sacred Texas soil, on April 15, Abbott made the State a laughingstock when he directed the Texas State Guard to “monitor” U.S. military training exercises in central Texas so that Texans would “know that their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”

That was not his first error, either.  Previously the Governor had already added his voice to the “anti-vaxxers,” supporting the right of parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children not just for medical reasons but for religious or personal objections.  Ummmm hmmmh.  Just what we need: more sick children.  Here are the unpleasant facts.  There are contagious illnesses out there, and schoolchildren are vulnerable. Measles are highly contagious, particularly in schools.  In 1958 Texas had over 85,000 cases; since then the total has dropped to almost none.  Do we want it to increase again?  In Texas in the 2013-2014 school year, more than 38,000 students making up roughly 0.75 percent of the state’s school-age population used exemptions to avoid vaccinations, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of data from the Department of State Health Services. That was far higher than a decade earlier, when exemptions were granted to just 3,000 students making up about 0.1 percent of the population, according to the Chronicle.  So the percentage of unvaccinated children has increased more than sevenfold in a decade.  And this took place with the backdrop of the measles outbreak in California.  This kind of loopy failure to protect one’s children, based on no science, and in fact, flying in the face of science and rational thought, is not limited to rural counties.  Travis County (Austin) and Collin and Denton counties (suburban Dallas) are among the leaders in the percentage of the unvaccinated.  What is the Governor thinking?  Shall we risk a few extra cases of polio as well?

Add to this the recent enactment of a more robust “open carry” law, that is, the inalienable right of citizens to carry firearms wherever they wish, including Wal-marts, university campuses, and even churches.  Governor Abbott was proud to sign the open carry law at Red’s Indoor Range, a popular gun store and shooting range in Pflugerville. Bottom line — the Republican ruling class in Austin has certainly sent the wrong message to mild-mannered CEO’s who might have thought about leaving high-tax states for Texas.

Finally, recent developments on the “social issues” front have not cast Texas in the light best suited for gaining relocations, and for this Governor Abbott shares the blame, but again takes the lead.  Most Americans have a laissez faire attitude about abortion and gay marriage.   Governor Abbott is well known as a pro-life [read: “anti-abortion”]  enthusiast.  Texas has for years defended strict limits on abortion, and as Attorney General he was bound to defend such legislation.  Texas has a well-earned reputation of caring far more about restricting Texans’ personal lives (and specifically, their activities in the bedroom or on the couch) than about regulating their commercial activities.  Outside Texas, these views carry little weight.  A slight majority of Americans think abortion should be legal under some circumstances, while nearly 30% of Americans think it should be legal under all circumstances.  Only 19% think it should be prohibited under all circumstances.  The ham-handed efforts of the solidly Republican Texas Legislature to evade and restrict Roe v. Wade have attracted unfavorable attention, too, perhaps even from the United States Supreme Court.  Governor Abbott has embraced those efforts and is strongly identified with them.

Or, as wickedly satirical Andy Borowitz has said, “In Texas currently your personal safety pretty much peaks when you’re a fetus and it’s all downhill from there.”

More to the point, this Governor’s views on same-sex marriage are well out of step with the views of the workers he would like to attract to Texas.  The last straw was Abbott’s tacit invitation (and the not-so-tacit invitation by Texas’s Attorney General Ken Paxton) to state officials to ignore the United States Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision.  In fact, Abbott’s and Paxton’s views are even out of step with a majority of the very conservative Texas Supreme Court.  On June 19, just one week before Obergefell, by a 5-3 ruling (ardent conservatives prevailing over last-ditch conservatives), the Texas Supreme Court denied the State’s effort to intervene belatedly in the case of a gay couple who had been granted a divorce here after marrying elsewhere.  The Texas court decided only that the attorney general (who at the time was Greg Abbott) had intervened too late.  Abbott’s statement as Governor reflected his pique at the court on which he had once been a member:  “The [C]ourt mistakenly relied on a technicality to allow this divorce to proceed…[it] did not address the Texas Constitution’s definition of marriage – and marriage in Texas remains an institution between one man and one woman.”

Not so fast, Guv(!)

One week later, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued Obergefell, Governor Abbott was predictably even more outraged.  Notwithstanding his law school training, the one-time judge and former highest legal officer of the State had this to say, in an outburst reminiscent of segregationist governors during the ‘50’s and ‘60’s:

“The Supreme Court has abandoned its role as an impartial judicial arbiter and has become an unelected nine-member legislature. Five Justices on the Supreme Court have imposed on the entire country their personal views on an issue that the Constitution and the Court’s previous decisions reserve to the people of the States.

“Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings, Texans’ fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected. No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.”

Governor Abbott undoubtedly knew exactly what he was saying.  The elected county clerks in Texas’s 254 counties are responsible for issuing marriage licenses.  Governor Abbott invited these elected representatives, who take oaths to uphold the law and perform their statutory duties, to refuse to issue marriage license to gays if their “conscience” forbids it.

These incidents, all occurring within the first 180 days of the Abbott Era, lead dispassionate observers to wonder if there are there any adults in the Governor’s inner circle.  Is there no one willing to say, “Boss, this is ridiculous.”?  No matter how this kind of nonsense is dressed up, it is viewed with laughter or contempt – or both — by business people throughout the country.  The vast majority of people who run businesses just want productive workers.  They don’t care what their employees do at home, so long as they come to work and do their jobs.  CEO’s know they have gay workers, open or closeted.  Prudent CEO’s are unlikely to relocate their business to a State whose top officials are unremittingly hostile to their employees’ lifestyle choices.

Greg Abbott was once a respected state court judge.  Over the years he has dissipated his credibility by moving ever farther to the right, but he has accelerated the process during his first six months as Governor.  His views on vaccinations, guns, military invasion (by our own military), abortion rights and gay marriage show that he is primarily interested in pandering to kooks rather than insuring the well-being of the State.  And we’re going to pay for it.

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2 thoughts on “How Not to Attract Business to Texas

  1. On a personal level, it’s sad to see someone I once admired stray so far from the just and reasonable (I meant Greg, not you, Lee. I’ll ALWAYS admire you. 😉

    You’re so right that that the Governor’s efforts to preserve Texas’ reputation as a right wing Christian loonie bin is making it hard for businesses to persuade most Americans to become Texans. I travel all over, all the time, and the number one thing I have to point about Texas begins, “Actually, there are still some sensible people who live there….they just don’t hold public office anymore.”

  2. I hope all Texans who are disappointed in the Governor’s pandering will send him a letter. Since he responded to a few letters from loonies, perhaps it’s not too much to hope that he will respond to letters from thoughtful Texans. Just a thought.

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