We’re glad to see that some of our long-silent, long-suffering business Republicans have found their voices. They’ve been grousing quietly for several election cycles, afraid to openly differ with Freedom Caucus Republicans and social conservatives backed by Empower Texans.
By speaking up, they may have prevented the wealthy, mostly West Texas backers of Empower Texans from increasing their power base in Tarrant County.
Empower Texans got down and dirty as its backers attempted to unseat Texas House Republicans Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake. They launched attack ads that attempted to deceive voters about Geren’s ties to a lobbyist — his wife — and wrongly claimed Capriglione was not strongly anti-abortion.
An anti-abortion group, Texas Alliance for Life, defended Capriglione. Then the candidate outed Empower Texans in a letter to voters saying: “When I was first elected my opponent’s funding source would send me an email each day telling me how to vote. I refused to simply 'go along to get along' and follow their directives.”
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As Geren fought back, other Republicans including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, supported him. During her state-of-the-city speech, she referenced the Empower Texans smear campaign saying, “The primaries are critically important in Texas. And my friend Charlie Geren just this week said, ‘Don't let an outsider control our local elections.’ ”
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley also sounded an alarm, claiming money from outside Tarrant County is “trying to buy the Legislature.” Soon afterward, the Editorial Board began receiving opinion pieces from public officials who believe he’s right and want to add their voices. So why speak up now?
It’s partly what Whitley referred to: fear of what might happen in the next legislative session which begins in January.
Empower Texans might have picked up a few legislative seats in this election. But the big prize would be to have their person as Speaker of the House.
Joe Straus, another business Republican, is leaving that post. If House members choose a successor whose philosophy more closely mirrors that of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who runs the Texas Senate, there will be no one in state leadership to put the brakes on extreme legislation.
Do you want school vouchers? Without a moderating voice at the helm in the House, Patrick and a faction, some backed by Empower Texans, will have a clearer path to push vouchers through. And Gov. Greg Abbott would likely sign vouchers into law, calling it “school choice.”
Abbott and Patrick have also taken a hard line against the state funding any new toll roads.
This Editorial Board believes our transportation needs are so great that everything should be on the table. Opposition to funding toll lanes currently threatens the completion of a final stretch of I-35W, even though toll lanes were approved for that project in 2009.
Then there’s property taxes. Abbott and Patrick have both called for reducing them, which no doubt sounds great to homeowners. But there’s always a trade-off. Abbott’s plan would prevent local governments, including school districts, from collecting more than 2.5 percent more in property tax revenue than the previous year. School districts, already strapped, have good reason to fear the consequences. There’s little indication state lawmakers would be willing to kick in enough replacement money to cover rising school costs.
So, business Republicans, continue to speak up when you believe far-right factions in your party are pushing bad policies. You will only have a voice if you use it.