Dear Austin

Dear Austin,

I’ve seen you in the news a lot lately, so I just wanted to check in and say how proud I am of you, little brother. It’s been a while.

You probably saw that “I love you tacos so much” mural goof I did in late 2015. Yeah, a lot of people liked that. God only knows how many have had their picture taken in front of that wall. Like I said, I did it as a goof, but also I meant it as a sign of respect for you and for tacos.Lil Bro

The other day I was trying to remember when the last time was that we really got together on something big. I think it was all the dreaming and planning we did for that commuter rail line that would’ve linked us together. Looking back on it, maybe I wanted it more than you did. But I could tell you wanted it too.

I hope I didn’t annoy you. If I did, I apologize.

Also, in case you heard about one or two news stories where it looked like I was bragging about poaching a couple of your tech companies — just so you know, the reporters took what I said way out of context. I called up them after the stories ran and gave them absolute hell. IT is really just a side hustle of mine. You obviously own that industry. You always had the head for that kind of thing, and the flagship university campus and the rest of the tech infrastructure.

Hey, along those lines, you’ve probably heard about the Adopt-a-City competition that Amazon announced a few weeks ago. Sounds like what they’re talking about is a complete makeover for the winner– a second corporate headquarters and 50,000 new jobs. I was like wow. But still, I didn’t think about it that much until the craziest thing started happening. Friends were coming to me and saying, “Hey, if you and your brother teamed up as a single contestant, you could win!” A couple of them said our pairing up would be “singularly disruptive.” They even came up with a name: San Austin.

Man, I laughed hard. So lame. But it kept coming up again and again and again, until finally I decided I should give it some thought. And you know what? It started making sense to me. Our populations are coming together along I-35 — fastest-growing corridor in the country! And our skills are complementary. I’m a back-office kind of guy — lots of call centers, plenty of high school graduates willing to do the work, lots of bilingual workers. I also have a bunch of server farms — always happy to build more! — and cheap electricity rates. And you — you’d be front-office all the way, the brains of the operation. You’d bring all that flashy IT talent and that cool urban thing you have down. (You know me — just beer and hanging out with friends and family.) The more I think about it, the more I think we’d be unbeatable.

And look, I know you wouldn’t really need me in order to compete. But, honestly, the money and exposure would help me out. You should know, though, I am doing better. I’m working on my weight problem. My high-school and college graduation rates still aren’t great but they’re heading in the right direction. Same with my teen pregnancy rates.  Still don’t really have a mass transit plan or housing policy, but I do have SA Tomorrow, so there’s that. I know what you’re thinking: Make the improvements I need to make, take care of the fundamentals, and the economic growth will come…. Or I could compete for HQ 2 with you now, win it, and let the Amazon magic do its thing. That’s my preference.

If you have time to come visit to talk it over,  I’ll take you to this place I’ve been dying for you to see — the Pearl. I think you’ll love it. Let me know!

In the meantime, keep thinking San Austin, San Austin, San Austin….

 

Love always bro,

San Antonio

 

 

 

A Modest Proposal for the Texas Legislature’s Special Session

[The following post originally appeared on TribTalk.]

Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda for the Texas Legislature’s special session next month looks a little light, so here are a few proposals he should add to his list.

  • Change the name of Welfare, Texas, for obvious reasons, to Self-Reliance. The town has had 137 years to adopt a better name, but has failed to act. You know why? Because it’s lazy.
  • Require women seeking abortions to write letters of explanation to their fetuses, and to read them out loud.
  • Shut down zoos’ pro-homosexual agendas in Texas. Most people aren’t aware, for example, that politically correct zookeepers at the San Antonio Zoo are housing three adult female elephants together — without any males. How much longer can these elephants remain just friends?
  • Initiate a state takeover of Texas pawn shops, auto-title and payday loan companies, and plasma centers— the components of our state’s robust poverty industry. Use the profits to fund property tax cuts. In years in which property values go crazy, lawmakers can provide additional relief by raising the interest rates on the state’s customers and maybe trimming what it pays for plasma.

The first three items are straightforward. If our lawmakers can’t agree that the name Welfare is a hideous coffee stain on our state map, that fetuses are owed an explanation or at least a heads-up, and that our zoo animals shouldn’t be forced to be gay, we are lost — with a capital L.

My fourth proposal, however, is going to take some work. It’s visionary, though it does kind of pick up where the Texas Lottery leaves off. And like anything that tosses out the old thinking, it will be wildly controversial.

There’s no getting around the fact this would be a huge government intrusion into the free market. But we have an opportunity here to finally deliver real relief to Texas taxpayers and to adequately fund public education, including any future school-voucher program. All we have to do is get up the gumption to take this step.

It’ll help to begin thinking about the poor and the working poor in two new ways.

  1. Poverty is a natural resource.
  2. We, the people who have given our consent to be governed by the State of Texas, have the strongest claims on the poor through our investments in welfare programs, Medicaid, and public schools.

As the private-sector poverty industry learned decades ago, Texas is a booming market. About 16 percent of our population lived below the poverty line in 2016, according to the Center for American Progress. That’s a ton of opportunity.

Just look at auto-title and payday loans. In 2015, Texas customers took out $1.7 billion in new loans, and refinanced $2.4 billion in debt, Texas Appleseed reported in January. They paid $1.58 in fees for every dollar they borrowed! And that’s just one part of the industry. Think about the lakes of plasma the poor sell every year, and all the iPads, laptops and jewelry they pawn.

Under my plan, profits from these businesses would flow to everyday Texans instead of corporations, most of which are smart enough to figure out other ways to make money.

The fate of my proposal will come down to whether our state lawmakers are willing to take bold, unprecedented action to finally lighten the little guy’s load. I have to say that under the inspired leadership of Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, I am extremely optimistic about our chances come July 18.

O Brother, How Votes Thou?

[Editor’s note: A San Antonio executive writing under the pen name Felix Culpa once again graces our blog with his take on national politics. The hits just keep coming.]

Other than the diehard partisans, everyone seems to be complaining that this year’s presidential contest forces us to choose between two distasteful candidates. Google “lesser of two evils” and you’ll see what I mean. But to me, the choice isn’t really between Evil One and Evil Two, it’s between relatively benign corruption and relatively dangerous reaction.

Or, if you’re a fan of Coen brothers movies, between Pappy O’Daniel and Homer Stokes.o brother

Hopefully by now you’ve seen, and committed to memory, the great “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (If not, you’re probably a millennial, so first, read the blog post that precedes this one, and second, download the movie on Yidio or Crackle or whatever stupidly named app you people favor these days).

“O Brother” is basically a recasting of the Odyssey into Great Depression-era Mississippi, and amid the trouble that encounters Ulysses Everett McGill – a wife named Penelope, her suitors, attackers that include a one-eyed giant – a subplot is woven: a gubernatorial campaign between Pappy O’Daniel, a good ol’ boy surrounded by incompetent sycophants, and Homer Stokes, a populist outsider who promises to “stand up for the little guy.”

Literally, for the little guy. See the movie if you don’t get the reference.

Anyway: Pappy frets that he’s too old-school, and that his patronage politics won’t survive an onslaught by the modern law-and-order message spouted by Stokes on the hot new social media of the time, AM radio. Stokes waves around a broom to show he wants to sweep out corruption.

It isn’t until Pappy stumbles upon a populist message of his own that he begins to have a chance. Stokes desperately tries to discredit that message, and in doing so reveals that he belongs to a “certain secret society” whose name he needn’t mention, but its initials are KKK. The assembled voters ride him out of town on a rail.

Literally, on a rail. See the damn movie, people!

Anyway: It shouldn’t be hard to see who in our current campaign represents the patronage and pay-for-play governing tyle of Pappy O’Daniel, and who represents the fearmongering posing as populism of Homer Stokes. Right?

And the important lesson, especially as Donald Trump screeches about “Crooked Hillary” and e-mails and foundations and so on, is that voters generally stick with the bullshit they know vs. the bullshit they don’t know.

It’s just too bad the soundtrack of this year’s presidential campaign is nowhere near as good as the one in the movie.

Dude Doesn’t Get Conservatives

 

11.12.15

 

Richard,

First let me say I love you, man, and I’ll always think of you as my mentor. You taught me how to do campaigns. You saved me years of trial and error and a shitload of losses. And I truly appreciate you thinking of me and sending work my way.

I know you know there’s a “but” coming. Here it is: But there is no way I can take on Congressman Burke as a client.

I want to be straight with you – it’s not because I’m already overcommitted (has a consultant ever even said that word?) or because we couldn’t agree on the size of my retainer. It’s because I’m convinced he’s going to get killed in the primary, and no consultant on this planet can prevent it.

Ed – excuse me, Edmund – Burke is just too out of step with conservatism.

I met him at a diner in Bristol earlier this week. Caught him on a very bad day. On the drive over, I flipped through the talk radio shows. The hosts were eating him alive, and the callers – my God, haven’t heard anger like that since Bruce Jenner came out as a woman. Worse, from what I heard not one surrogate of Burke’s called in to defend him. And I checked later, no counter-messaging at all on Twitter. Nothing, like maybe his campaign doesn’t have a social media director.

The headline in the morning paper was pretty bad, too. “Burke: Don’t Tell Me How to Vote – You’re Just Bristolians!” And what did he say when the reporter called him for comment? “Please refer to the text of my speech.”

The speech was the fucking problem!

Since you probably haven’t seen the clippings – yet – Politico is about to jump on this story – here’s some of what he told the Bristol Chamber of Commerce.

[Constituents’] wishes ought to have great weight with their representative; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

I know – just take a few seconds with that. He might as well send out a flyer to every R household in the district that says “I’m better than you in every way.” Unbiased opinion, mature judgment, enlightened conscience? Jesus! When was the last time you ever heard a pol who won a seat in Congress claim any of those things?

How did this guy ever get elected in the first place?

Then he said this:

Congress is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but Congress is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of Congress. 

How do you walk something like that back?

I pull a copy of the newspaper out of my jacket pocket and I’m waving it around in front of him, throwing this stuff in his lap. And he says “the electors of Bristol” will get the “reasonableness” of what he said and “come into harmony” with his position.

I nearly choke on my coffee. Electors? He doesn’t even call them voters.

Did you know reporters were in the room, I ask. Of course, he says. Then I swear he calls me a goose.

I keep pounding away, telling him about all the polling data showing that if the GOP base wasn’t in the mood for his schtick in 2010, man, oh man – they’re downright murderous this cycle.

He just smiles this weird, kind of amused smile and stares at me. Doesn’t say a thing.

I ask is there anything else I need to know about, apart from this neutron bomb of a speech. He goes on smiling and says, still amused, “yes, I am writing a book about the revolution in France.”

The French Revolution?”

“No, the revolution in France.”

“Pro or con?”

“Con.”

Then he goes off about pruning away the dead parts of the plant – and only the dead parts – in order to save the whole thing. The plant being government.

I cut him off there, smile politely, and tell him straight out he doesn’t get the GOP base. Conservatives are about revolution. We make a few minutes of polite conversation, I pay the bill, and leave.

burke
Congressman Burke

I know this seems like a rant, but I just want to make totally clear to you how vulnerable this guy is in the primary – and to see if you want to team up to find the right challenger. I got a promising lead from one of my contacts: a fire-breathing bartender who calls in to the talk shows every day, without fail, and is a master of the Tweet smackdown.

Interested? If so, we have to move quickly.

Anyway, thanks again for the referral. Sorry it didn’t work out. But now we have a chance to put a real conservative in that seat and make a shit ton of fees to boot.

Sincerely,

Leland

Big Business, LGBT Rights Czar

Here’s an idea: let’s hand over the responsibility for protecting LGBT rights to Big Business.

I’m confident this would work at all three levels of government — federal, state, and local — across the country. But in Texas, success would be close to a lead-pipe cinch.

True, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is looking to drastically reduce the number of places where transgender folks can lawfully pee when they leave their homes. For all his apparent agitation, though, I’m pretty sure the issue doesn’t matter much to Patrick. I mean, he’s got to get voters at the Republican grassroots fired up somehow ahead of the general elections. Remember the miracles Karl Rove worked for George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 with gay marriage?

But the potty conundrum actually means something to the religious right and parents worried about the safety of their kids in public restrooms. So expect no-potty bills in the 2017 legislative session from rural lawmakers nobody has ever heard of, except in their home districts and within six square blocks of the Capitol building.

In North Carolina, transgender people already have to go to the restrooms dictated to them by their anatomy, or God, the author of their anatomy, or whatever. It’s state law.

But there’s a big difference between Texas and North Carolina. A couple years for now in Texas, a woman who identifies as a man will be free to go to a public men’s room, and vice versa. And it won’t be because of some landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. It’ll be because the measure never made it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

I’d be comfortable betting that any no-restroom-for-the-wicked bills filed in the 2017 Texas Lege will die quiet deaths in committee. At most, they’ll die noisy, faux-noble deaths on the House and Senate floors.

Either way, Big Business will be the executioner.

Just look back to the Lege’s last session.

The Texas Association of Business (TAB), the state’s most powerful business group, “helped” kill several proposed constitutional amendments that popped up in the 2015 Texas Legislature, changes that would have allowed fundamentalists to take their religion out on others. That would be people to whom religious conservatives don’t want to sell services or products because of said-people’s sexual orientation. In their end-of-the-session report, TAB officials wrote: “If this constitutional amendment had passed, Texas would have earned a reputation for being hostile to business and economic development prospects.”

Just like Indiana did in 2015 when Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Homegrown Eli Lilly & Co., Apple, Walmart, and Nascar were among the corporations that protested the law.

Corporations need millennials to prosper, both as employees and customers, and millennials are just fine with LGBT. A poll conducted in March by the Pew Research Center found, for example, that 71 percent of millennials support gay marriage. Gen-Xers followed with 56-percent support, Baby Boomers 46 percent, and the “Silent Generation” 38 percent.

After signing the religious-freedom bill, Pence was unnerved by Big Business’s reaction, and the Indiana Legislature quickly passed an amendment intended the protect the LGBT community from discrimination. Pence, of course, signed it.

The Hoosier State has an Indiana Chamber of Commerce, but that organization doesn’t quite have the say-so of TAB.

This is a group with real power. Hence the quotation marks around helped in the sentence five paragraphs above, as in “‘helped’ kill” the proposed religious-freedom amendment in the Lege last year.

Equality Texas?

You’re joking, right?

Texas Freedom Network?

Yes, and the Texas Observer is the most widely read publication in Texas.

ACLU of Texas?

Really, you’re killing me now. How many times were you dropped on your head as a baby?

Business didn’t want the amendment, so there was no amendment. The same was true of the most radical, Arizona-inspired legislative responses to illegal immigration that country lawmakers tried to push through the Lege in 2011. They hit the wall that is Big Business. When the burning issue is undocumented workers, it’s about low-cost, available labor for TAB — nothing else.

Not to give TAB too much credit. The primacy of business goes back almost to the State of Texas’s infancy.

Erica Grieder, a senior editor at Texas Monthly, convincingly made the case that business interests usually have trumped religious conservatives’ sweatier legislative fantasies in her 2013 book, Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas. But she also included a caveat, rooted in the fact that Texas is a one-party state when it comes to statewide elections.

“Republicans have amassed so much power in Texas that the religious right is getting more ambitious — just as the moderates are becoming more skeptical,” Grieder wrote.

Are we at the point where hard-right social conservatives have enough stroke to overcome Big Business’s pragmatism? I don’t think so. Unless Joe Straus’s re-election as Texas Speaker of the House in the 2017 session is in some kind of grave danger that we’re unaware of.

If Straus loses the speakership, let’s agree to regroup in New Mexico. Someplace nice. Taos, maybe.

But odds are Straus will survive. Assuming he does, I’m counting on him not only to support my plan, but to be its make-happen agent.

We’ll work up a contract that gives TAB powers of the state to protect the rights of the LGBT community and to weigh in when the lawmakers of the religious right get a little overly excited.

Giving TAB this new role could have a side-benefit — it might keep TAB officials so busy they won’t have time to continue trying to gut environmental protections or skew Texas’s tax system even more in the favor of Big Business.