This was the headline of Patricia Kilday Hart’s strong column in the Houston Chronicle last week. It asks a good question. Her focus is on the Greater Houston Partnership. I asked a similar question a couple of years ago–why isn’t the business community more involved in state government?–and was subsequently invited to speak to the GHP. I told them that on the previous day, 200 people from Lubbock were walking the halls of the Capitol extension, urging members to support Texas Tech’s campaign to become the next state’s next tier one university. My question to the GHP was, where were you? Why weren’t you in Austin supporting your hometown university? One person thanked me afterward. It was Renu Khator, the chancellor and president of the University of Houston. I think the answer to Hart’s question is that there are no business leaders in this state. Ken Lay was the last one (as painful as it is for me to write that), and his business turned out to be a house of cards. The reason that today’s business leaders aren’t leaders is that Houston and Dallas have become outposts of Wall Street. The local banks are run by people who are sent to Texas, stay for five years, and recycle themselves somewhere else. They have no long-term stake in the success of their temporary place of residence, much less Texas; they only care about what they can contribute to their institution’s bottom line while they are here. The Greater Houston Partnership is a shell of what it used to be. George R. Brown would weep at its lack of influence. Bob Lanier must be appalled. It is just another Perry echo chamber. It is inconceivable that CEO Jeff Moseley would challenge Perry’s budget plans. If he dared to try, I suspect he would be out of a job. Hart exposes just how weak (and meek) the Greater Houston Partnership is. She points out that the partnership adopts resolution after resolution supporting sound state policies–including “create new revenue streams to address the state budget shortfall.” But it’s just window dressing. The minute Rick Perry says “sign my budget compact,” there is Moseley rushing to Perry’s side with the pen, giving him cover for fiscal policies that he knows are ruinous for the future of this state. Not educating kids. Not providing for water. Uttering prepackaged statements like, “The pro-business policies and accountable and responsible budgets adopted by Governor Perry and legislators have given Texas an enormous advantage when competing for high-paying jobs, and helped Houston prosper to become the top region for corporate relocations in the U.S. in two of the last five years, including in 2011, and these principles will keep us on that path blah blah blah.” Two of the last five years? Shouldn’t Houston do better than that? As Hart writes, “The folks at the Greater Houston Partnership are well aware of the many ways the Texas Legislature – and our statewide elected officeholders – have failed to invest in the crucial infrastructure required for our exploding population.” Her column is a variation of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Everybody knows the emperor is naked, but no one will step forward and say so. Why don’t the state’s business leaders stand up to Rick Perry? Because there are none.
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