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Texas Businesses Spoke Out Against Republican Voting Bill; San Antonio Chamber Was Silent

Texas Democratic lawmakers join multiple organizations outside the Texas State Capitol to criticize proposed changes to election laws on the 2021 Special Legislative Session agenda in Austin on July 8, 2021.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Texas Democratic lawmakers join multiple organizations outside the Texas State Capitol to criticize proposed changes to election laws on the 2021 Special Legislative Session agenda in Austin on July 8, 2021.

As the Texas Legislature starts its special session, the election integrity — or voter suppression — bill is back before lawmakers.

During the regular session, dozens of big name national companies with a presence in the state came to the aid of Democratic lawmakers fighting the legislation.

Chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies Michael Dell called equitable voting access “the foundation of American democracy.”

Officials from other big name companies agreed.

“We are strongly opposed to this bill (Senate Bill 7) and others like it,” said American Airlines in a statement.

Salesforce and others sent lobbyists to testify against the bills.

Several businesses sent a joint letter as Fair Elections Texas opposing the measure.

“We believe the right to vote is sacred. When more people participate in our democratic process, we will all prosper,” it read.

Others have also made the case that it is bad for business. Some businesses threatened to leave Georgia when they passed restrictive voting laws. That law is now being challenged in federal court by the Biden Administration. An analysis from the Perryman Group saw the state losing $14 billion annually in business activity by 2025.

Several chambers signed onto the Fair Elections Texas letter, but not the San Antonio Chamber.

“I had my staff email them (chamber officials) several times in the days and hours leading up to the House discussion on (SB 7) asking, ‘Do you have a position?’ And they repeatedly said, ‘No, we do not,’” said Diego Bernal, representative for District 123 in San Antonio.

Since that time, even Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has distanced himself from onerous provisions of the bill that was defeated, but the San Antonio Chamber has made no statements one way or the other and did not respond to calls or emails to comment for this story.

Jack Morgan
Texas Public Radio
Rep. Diego Bernal stands next to Richard Perez, CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce in a TPR file photo.

“I just expect more, especially from the chamber, especially from one that essentially gets free rent, a free building from the city downtown. My question is, ‘What have you done to earn that?’” said Bernal.

The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce is one of dozens of nonprofits with subsidized facilities and buildings. Texas Public Radio enjoys an annual rate of $10 as part of a deal it made to raise $5 million to rebuild the backhouse of the Alameda Theater.

Texas begins its special legislative session with many agenda items tailor made for the culture war. It may be that the San Antonio Chamber and other businesses are going out of their way to stay out of it.

The San Antonio Express-News just highlighted this issue in the dust up over USAA advertising on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show after the increasingly conspiracy-laden host insulted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Social media made it true, and rather than point out that they hadn’t put money on the show in two years, they stayed quiet, finding themselves in a no-win situation.

USAA didn’t take a public stance on the elections bill last time and didn’t respond to TPR’s emails with comment before publication. Toyota also didn’t respond to public pressure to take a position on the election restrictions bill.

For Bernal that was and is tough to stomach.

“What's tough is feeling like your own community, your own people, that the people who own and operate businesses in your backyard, don't have your back, are willing to let you go out and fight and bleed on your own, even though they know that what you're fighting for is not only in the best interest of all the people that you work with and serve, but also in the best interest of the state in general,” said Bernal.

He hopes this session will change that.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org