Straus stresses busi­ness fo­cus

De­feat of bath­room bill should be ‘clear turn­ing point,’ he says

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro&state - By ROBERT T. GAR­RETT Austin Bu­reau rt­gar­rett@dal­las­news.com

AUSTIN — Speaker Joe Straus on Thurs­day ratch­eted up his bid to force other GOP state lead­ers to em­pha­size en­tice­ments to busi­ness over di­vi­sive so­cial is­sues.

In his sec­ond re­buff of Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick and Gov. Greg Ab­bott in three days over the failed “bath­room bill,” Straus showed he’s not ready to let the sum­mer’s epic strug­gle over trans­gen­der Tex­ans’ potty choices re­cede from mem­ory be­fore the March pri­maries.

In­stead, the San An­to­nio Re­pub­li­can told a busi­ness au­di­ence in the state cap­i­tal that he hopes the bath­room fight “can be and needs to be a very clear turn­ing point,” both for Texas and his party.

Straus un­der­scored he’s not back­ing down. He named a spe­cial, seven-mem­ber House panel on “eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness” that will hold hear­ings and re­port back on Dec. 12 — a day af­ter the can­di­date fil­ing dead­line. It will “work quickly and ag­gres­sively” to rec­om­mend the best ap­proach to woo­ing com­pa­nies, he told the Austin Cham­ber of Com­merce.

Packed with Straus loy­al­ists, the com­mit­tee is ex­pected to echo his re­cent eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment mantra: To com­pete for Ama­zon’s sec­ond head­quar­ters and other cov­eted com­pa­nies, the state must fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion, cul­tural di­ver­sity and items such as parks, mu­se­ums and the arts.

“The for­mula is not as sim­ple as it used to be,” he said. “Be­ing pro-busi­ness isn’t just about tax breaks and cash in­cen­tives. Those things, of course, still count.

“But it’s also about ed­u­ca­tion and tol­er­ance and em­pa­thy and qual­ity of life.”

Spokes­men for Pa­trick and Ab­bott, who sup­ported the failed bill to reg­u­late trans­gen­der peo­ple’s use of pub­lic re­strooms and locker rooms, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Straus, asked if he has sup­port from Pa­trick and Ab­bott for what he’s do­ing, replied: “I imag­ine we will. We’re all for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.”

As he did when he gave a sim­i­lar talk to five North Texas cham­bers in Mckin­ney on Tues­day, Straus pegged much of his speech to Ama­zon’s re­quests for pro­pos­als for its sec­ond head­quar­ters.

By Oct. 19, the Seat­tle­based be­he­moth has asked com­mu­ni­ties across North Amer­ica to de­scribe their pub­lic schools’ com­puter sci­ence pro­grams, lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties, recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties and “sup­port of a di­verse pop­u­la­tion,” Straus said. The com­pany also has asked about tran­sit sys­tems and avail­able land.

Though Ama­zon has set off a court­ing frenzy, Straus’ home­town — San An­to­nio and Bexar County — pulled out of the com­pe­ti­tion this week. He said that might be “a smart de­ci­sion,” given that the “mad scram­ble” for Ama­zon could di­vert boost­ers from other op­por­tu­ni­ties.

To head the new House Select Com­mit­tee on Eco­nomic Com­pet­i­tive­ness, the speaker turned to Cor­si­cana GOP Rep. Byron Cook, a trusted ally. In March, Cook is ex­pect­ing to again face stiff pri­mary op­po­si­tion that is fi­nan­cially backed by staunchly con­ser­va­tive groups funded by Mid­land oil­man Tim Dunn.

Other Repub­li­cans tapped by Straus to serve will be Fort Worth’s Char­lie Geren, Angie Chen But­ton of Gar­land and Sarah Davis of Hous­ton. Vet­eran Hous­ton Demo­crat Sen­fro­nia Thomp­son will be Cook’s vice chair­woman. El Paso’s Joe Moody and Brownsville’s René Oliveira are the other Democrats ap­pointed.

In a writ­ten state­ment, Straus said the com­mit­tee will look at is­sues such as work­force readi­ness, in­fra­struc­ture and state and lo­cal eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment tools. The panel also will study the rea­sons that em­ploy­ers give for choos­ing, or not choos­ing, to do busi­ness in a par­tic­u­lar state.

“It’s time to re­assert that Texas is fully com­mit­ted to pri­vate-sec­tor growth,” he told the Austin busi­ness lead­ers. One of them, banker Kerry Hall, in­tro­duced him as “the lead­ing voice of san­ity at the Capi­tol.”

Straus sternly con­tin­ued, “There should be no am­bi­gu­ity about the fact that the Texas House will fo­cus on the big and the con­se­quen­tial in­stead of the petty and the po­lar­iz­ing.”

North Texas Tea Party co­founder Michael Open­shaw, though, was unim­pressed.

“I guess Byron Cook’s do­na­tions from busi­ness have fallen off & Straus needed a way to get them to give more,” he tweeted.

Stephen Spillman/the As­so­ci­ated Press

House Speaker Joe Straus (right), who dif­fered with Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick on the failed bath­room bill, said: “Be­ing probusi­ness isn’t just about tax breaks and cash in­cen­tives.

... But it’s also about ed­u­ca­tion and tol­er­ance and em­pa­thy and qual­ity of life.”

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