Beating ‘bathroom bill’ should inspire Texas business to be politically engaged in Austin

SMU Political Scientist Cal Jillson talks about the political road ahead for Texas.

By Mitch Schnurman
Business columnist

Business just beat back the so-called bathroom bill in a special session, but there’s little time to celebrate.

Not with the lieutenant governor vowing to bring back the issue and the governor on board. Not with primary elections for state office only seven months away.

That’s right. Just as one political push ends, another is on the horizon, and business should be gearing up for it.

Employers, like everybody else, have to fight for the state they want. That means going beyond the usual lobbying and campaign contributions, and even public positions.

There’s also an opportunity to engage employees, increase awareness and boost the low turnout in Texas’ primary elections. And there’s no political off-season anymore, just as there’s no reliably pro-business agenda in the state Capitol. 

The bathroom bill showed how much was at stake — and the effort required to prevail. . . . 

“Before the bathroom bill, they never needed to rise up,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University and author of Lone Star Tarnished: A Critical Look at Texas Politics and Public Policy. “But this was a direct assault on the bottom line.” . . . 

The bathroom bill reflected a deep divide within the Republican Party. Pro-business conservatives are clashing with so-called movement conservatives who put more weight on cultural and religious issues.

There isn’t much question about who has the upper hand. In 2014, in the all-important Republican primaries, Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton beat their more traditional, pro-business opponents by 2 to 1.

“The declining influence of business has been replaced by the social conservatism of Dan Patrick,” Jillson said.

This week, a volunteer knocked on his door in Plano and said he was campaigning for “a moderate Republican in the Joe Straus mold.”

That surprised Jillson, because it’s early for a campaign and because he lives in a very conservative district. When the opening line is about moderation, that may be a sign of a backlash.

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