The state’s largest business lobbying group vowed Tuesday to help mobilize support for pro-business candidates for the Texas Legislature in the wake of this year’s regular and special sessions, where it often found itself on the defensive while social conservatives steered the agenda.
“The business community is motivated to become very involved in the primaries,” said Jeff Moseley, chief executive of the Texas Association of Business. “Our members are more energized than they’ve ever been.”
The issue is likely to loom large for the business group leading up to the next legislative session in 2019 because a powerful business ally — House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio — recently announced he will not seek re-election.
Moseley made his comments Tuesday after unveiling a legislative scorecard that ranks state lawmakers according to how they voted on the business group’s priorities during this year’s regular and special legislative sessions.
Overall, Moseley called the recent sessions successful for business interests. But he acknowledged his organization graded on something of a curve this year, saying “we saw some challenges that are not in that scorecard.”
The legislative sessions “could have been much more business-friendly,” he said. Still, business interests were “very successful in making sure a lot of bad ideas didn’t make it to the House floor” for a vote.
The Texas Association of Business’s scorecard only includes official votes that took place on the floors of either the House or Senate, not the public stances of lawmakers on proposals or bills that never came up for a vote.
For instance, the Texas Association of Business and many other groups lobbied hard against the so-called “bathroom bill” backed by social conservatives — which would have required transgender people to use public bathrooms matching the gender listed on their birth certificates — and it died in the House after winning approval from the Senate. As a result, the bathroom bill is included in the Texas Association of Business rankings for state senators but not for House members, because the bill never came up for a vote there.
Other issues that aren’t reflected in the scorecard include successful efforts by the Texas Association of Business and its legislative allies to prevent elimination of a number of state incentive programs for economic development.
Issues included on the scorecard include votes in both the House and Senate on Senate Bill 4, which bans so-called “sanctuary cities” that decline to assist with federal immigration enforcement. The Texas Association of Business opposed the bill, saying it “creates a climate for discriminatory behavior,” but it was approved by both chambers anyway and signed by the governor.
Successful proposals backed by the business group include a measure preventing cities from imposing a new kind of fee on construction, a measure aimed at curtailing frivolous lawsuits after hailstorms and other natural disasters, and a new financing mechanism to fund port improvements.
State Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, was the group’s top-ranked lawmaker this year, registering a 100 percent in the scorecard. State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, ranked lowest, with a 41 percent grade.
Moseley said the scorecard illustrates that many lawmakers in the state “are fighting for high-paying jobs and tax base that is healthy.”
Still, he pointed out that Texas dropped from No. 1 to No. 4 in a CNBC ranking of “America’s top states for business” published in July, calling it an indication that the state’s business community needs to become more engaged in vetting political candidates.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, said an effort to mobilize business groups to be more politically involved is a sound strategy, if a bit late.
“What we’re now seeing is a delayed adjustment and a late realization that the nature of the far-right groups within the (Republican Party) has subtly shifted and is not quite so easy to bargain with and align with (business) interests,” Henson said. But “it’s a reasonably realistic goal for the business and trade groups to become both more strategic and more active in the way that they intervene in the process.”
How they fared
A look at the Texas Association of Business scores for Central Texas legislators:
- Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, 80
- Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, 73
- Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, 73
- Kirk Watson, D-Austin, 67
- Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, 67
- Paul D. Workman, R-Austin, 94
- Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, 82
- Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, 82
- Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, 80
- Donna Howard, D-Austin, 59
- Celia Israel, D-Austin, 59
- Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, 59
- Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, 53
- Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, 44