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Monday, January 25, 2021

Richard Connor: America is watching as our legislators convene

On Tuesday, July 18, the Texas Legislature convenes in special session. If not the most important in the state’s recent history the session may well rank as one of the most crucial ever.

The nation will be watching.

And importantly, America’s largest businesses will be keeping a close eye on results of the session because they are concerned that Texas will no longer be as business friendly as it has been.

That would be a shame because Texas is a great place for business. I know. I’ve been in business in almost a dozen states.

The Legislature will battle over several bills that were not passed during the regular session as well as some issues placed on the agenda by Gov. Greg Abbott, who called the special session after considerable deliberation.

Because of changing demographics – the state is now predominantly non-Anglo – and the headline-grabbing neo-conservative movement afoot here, Texas is seen as the state to watch as politicians attempt to envision the future.

Nothing on the special session agenda will receive more public attention than the effort to pass a so-called “bathroom bill” placing restrictions on the use of public restrooms by transgender individuals.

This issue among many others is thoughtfully addressed in a story in the July 10 & 17 issue of The New Yorker that not only analyzes the 2017 regular legislative session but also provides a primer that should be required reading for all Texans on our state’s colorful political and historical past.

It is a piece of brilliant journalism by Lawrence Wright titled “America’s Future is Texas.” The subtitle reads: “With right-wing zealots taking over the legislature even as the state’s demographics shift leftward, Texas has become the nation’s bellwether.”

The nation’s bellwether.

It’s a true statement and that’s why the nation or at least those most interested in the direction of politics and government in this country will be watching.

The New Yorker story reprints a letter sent by representatives of some of the largest and most influential companies in America opposing Senate Bill 6, a bathroom restriction bill authored by Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, who once worked at TCU.

The excerpt reads:

“On May 27th, the C.E.O.s of fourteen companies with a significant presence in Texas, including Apple, Amazon, Cisco, Google, and I.B.M., sent Abbott a letter. ‘We are gravely concerned that any such legislation would deeply tarnish Texas’ reputation as open and friendly to businesses and families,’ it said. The bill would harm the companies’ ability to recruit talent to the state, they asserted, adding, ‘Discrimination is wrong and it has no place in Texas.’”

You may recall the firestorm that raged over this issue in April after Fort Worth School Superintendent Kent Scribner approved policy guidelines allowing students to use bathrooms based on their gender identity. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick promptly came to town railing about the guidelines and demanding Scribner’s resignation. Luckily, no one in Fort Worth paid any attention.

Passage of a bill like the one sponsored by Kolkhorst would set us back decades. North Carolina passed a similar bill and there are estimates that it will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business.

While the effort to pass a bathroom bill is significant on its own, the symbolic importance of it is even more significant. Lawrence Wright’s story in The New Yorker explores the political and cultural mindset that led us to this point. I hope readers will find it online and read it.

This is a state that can set the standard for the future but that future – one of social and economic evolution and progress – will be damaged if the far right demagogues take over and win in Austin.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

Richard Connor
Richard Connor is the owner and CEO/Publisher of DRC Media, the parent company of the Fort Worth Business Press. he also owns newspapers in Virginia. Mr. Connor held a number of corporate media executive positions before founding his own company. He is an award-winning columnist and at one time wrote a weekly column on national politics for CQ Politics, the online version of Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Quarterly.

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