Straus stresses business focus
Defeat of bathroom bill should be ‘clear turning point,’ he says
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.
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.”