Election night a mixed bag for state’s top business group

Four challengers backed by Texas Association of Business lost, but group sent strong message, analyst says.

The state’s main business lobbying group batted 0-4 during Tuesday’s primaries, in terms of its efforts to oust a handful of socially conservative Republican incumbents — whom it views as anti-business — from the state Legislature.

But primary night may not have been quite as big of a downer for the Texas Association of Business as that record implies.

The group went 2-1 against Gov. Greg Abbott, who tried to unseat three GOP House allies of business-friendly but retiring House Speaker Joe Straus. The Texas Association of Business endorsed all three of the lawmakers opposed by Abbott, and only one of them lost.

Political scientist Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, said the Texas Association of Business sent a clear message through its increased political activity that it is serious about taking on incumbents if they repeatedly cross it.

“They still get something from signaling that they’re willing to make things more difficult for people, and make them pay a higher cost in time and stress, to hang onto their seat,” even though the four GOP challengers backed by the business group were defeated on Tuesday, Henson said.

The Texas Association of Business, long an influential voice at the Republican-controlled state Legislature, found itself unexpectedly playing defense through much of last year’s legislative session, as ascendant social conservatives in the GOP pushed measures — such as the so-called bathroom bill — that some business leaders said were bad for the state’s economy.

The organization vowed in the aftermath to become more politically proactive beginning with Tuesday’s primaries, and it spent about $195,000 on political donations and other election-related activity from late October 2017 through Feb. 25, according to its most recent campaign finance reports, compared with $55,000 during the comparable period four years ago.

The organization issued endorsements in about half of the 165 state House and Senate races on Tuesday’s ballots, with the vast majority going to sitting lawmakers seeking reelection.

Still, all four of the incumbents that the Texas Association of Business opted to oppose — Republican state Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood and Republican state House members Mike Lang of Granbury, Kyle Biedermann of Fredericksburg and Valoree Swanson of Spring — won anyway. The four averaged a grade of 54 out of 100 on the business group’s 2017 scorecard for business-friendly voting records, and Lang, Biedermann and Swanson belong to the Texas Freedom Caucus, a block of socially conservative state lawmakers.

Hall’s victory carries a particular sting for the Texas Association of Business, because Republican state Rep. Cindy Burkett of Sunnyvale — who earned a 2017 grade of 94 from the group — gave up her seat to unsuccessfully challenge him.

In addition, two relatively high-scoring incumbents that the group endorsed — GOP state Sen. Craig Estes of Wichita Falls and GOP state Rep. Jason Villalba of Dallas — were defeated. Estes logged an 80 on the organization’s 2017 scorecard, while Villalba had a 94.

Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business, wasn’t available for comment Wednesday. Chief Executive Jeff Moseley said in a written statement that “numerous pro-business candidates were elected” Tuesday, although he added that the group knows it must “continue our efforts of focusing on the real issues facing Texas,” including jobs, taxes, education and transportation funding, and back candidates accordingly.

The organization declined to comment specifically on Tuesday’s results, saying it now is focusing on the May 22 run-offs and the November general elections.

Regardless, Henson noted that defeating entrenched incumbents is always a tall order, so it’s no surprise that the four challengers backed by the Texas Association of Business lost on Tuesday.

“It was a good night for incumbents,” he said. “You can look at almost anybody who endorsed in races and find that where they challenged incumbents, most of those were not successful.”

Abbott is a case in point. The governor, a Republican, took the unusual step of backing challengers to three GOP incumbent House members, but even he came out of Tuesday with a losing record, in terms of his endorsements of them.

Two of the three GOP House incumbents opposed by Abbott but supported by the Texas Association of Business — Sarah Davis of West University Place and Lyle Larson of San Antonio — won. A third, Wayne Faircloth of Galveston, was defeated.

Overall, Henson said, there were few clear winners or losers among the myriad interest groups that weighed in on Tuesday’s primary races. As for the Texas Association of Business, he said the group at least managed to send a message to candidates and incumbents that it will have to be reckoned with in future campaigns.

“I would guess the signal has been received,” Henson said. “Now the question is what the effect will be.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Business

Delivery services in spotlight after blast at FedEx facility
Delivery services in spotlight after blast at FedEx facility

The nation’s major package delivery services found themselves in an uncomfortable spotlight Tuesday after a package exploded at a FedEx facility southwest of Austin. Law enforcement officials said the explosive device was linked to a series of bombings in Austin — and said it was the first time one of the bombs was sent using a traditional...
Houston firm building senior community in Lakeway
Houston firm building senior community in Lakeway

For many Americans, aging can mean having to relocate to a senior living community to get needed care. A new facility set to open this year in Lakeway aims to provide that specialized attention, making it possible for area seniors to stay close to family and friends here in Central Texas. When Belmont Village Lakeway, at 107 Bella Montagna Cir., makes...
5 tips on breaking into animated film from an award-winning animator
5 tips on breaking into animated film from an award-winning animator

If you've seen a lot of animated films and commercials, you might have come across the work of award-winning animator and illustrator Kurt Guard. His knack for creating cutting-edge visual effects for short- and feature-length films, TV campaigns and personal projects is what lands him animation gigs with top-tier brands like BET Networks...
Top Local Business Stories of the Week
Top Local Business Stories of the Week

IRISH INFLUENCE Groundbreaking Irish leader talks tech, Trump at SXSW: The deep ties between the United States and Ireland are increasingly being measured in bytes and bits as well as heritage, Ireland’s groundbreaking prime minister said during a visit to South by Southwest this past week. “We have tried to make Ireland the tech capital...
Uber’s vision for future of ride-hailing: Driverless cars, air taxis
Uber’s vision for future of ride-hailing: Driverless cars, air taxis

Ride-hailing company Uber launched in 2010 built on a simple concept: Push a button, get a ride. Its popularity was driven by its ease. Much in the same way, Uber and other high-tech companies are now trying to build the next phase of ride-hailing on that same simplicity. Uber says it is partnering with aircraft firm Bell to bring an on-demand helicopter...
More Stories