In a speech to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in line with his brand of GOP politics, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday quoted the Bible, accused liberals of trying to turn Texas into California and joked that environmentalists have got Republicans all wrong.
“Republicans and conservatives love the environment,” he said. “We love clean water, so we can find the fish. We love clean air so we can spot the birds when they come by, load the shotgun.”
As he did for years on his talk radio show, Patrick was preaching to the choir, and he was enjoying it.
Although Patrick said little that he hadn’t said before, Thursday’s speech was notable in part because of a speech scheduled for Friday that didn’t end up happening.
Three weeks ago, the Texas Association of Business, which backs establishment Republicans and last year went to war with Patrick over his so-called bathroom bill, described Patrick as “the preeminent voice for principled conservative policies” and announced he would speak at its annual conference.
The prospect of Patrick speaking before the respective brain trusts of the Texas GOP’s warring factions in consecutive days had Austin political observers raising their eyebrows. Would he take his anti-establishment fight straight to the establishment? Or would he strike a conciliatory tone and try to broaden his appeal?
Patrick then backed out of the business association speech, citing scheduling conflicts.
“We do not know why his schedule changed but we look forward to another opportunity to host him soon,” Texas Association of Business spokeswoman Amanda Abbott said in a statement. “The door is always open to the Lieutenant Governor and all of our elected officials to address the members of TAB.”
Patrick’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The business group wasn’t far from his mind when he spoke before the tea party-aligned crowd Thursday.
“Just because a business group has a business title in front of them does not necessarily mean they’re being run by conservative Republicans,” he said to applause.
In the speech, Patrick did not specifically mention Senate Bill 6, which would have prohibited transgender Texans from using the restrooms of their choice, but his meaning was clear.
During last year’s legislative sessions, when the more moderate House flushed the bathroom bill, the Texas Association of Business and other groups argued that it would hurt the economy by driving away big events and businesses leery of appearing supportive of discriminatory laws. Businesses love Texas, Patrick said, because of its low taxes and light regulatory touch, not because it sides with policies favored by urban liberals.
“There’s a new term going around. It’s called — some people want to elect a ‘responsible Republican.’ Have you heard that?” Patrick said at the beginning of his speech. “A responsible Republican is a conservative Republican.”
The term is usually invoked to differentiate traditional Republicans from insurgent social conservatives like Patrick, who draws his support from evangelical Christians and often clashes with the business lobby. Patrick made clear Thursday that he considered them the same as Democrats.
“I don’t want our state to be in the hands of moderates, liberals and progressives because if it is, we’ll be California and the country will be in trouble,” he said.
Patrick vowed at the end of the August special session, which was prompted primarily by his insistence on passing the bathroom bill and a separate property tax measure, that Republicans who opposed those measures would hear about it in the March 6 primaries. Patrick, however, hasn’t pressed the issue in recent months, and it has been largely absent from the GOP contests unfolding now.