The Magazine

Lone Star Power

What Texas does, and has to do, to stay successful.

Oct 21, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 07 • By WILLIAM MCKENZIE
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

 Yet the state also needs to make sure it readies the large number of Latino students for the jobs that will give them economic and social mobility. Their educational progress will allow Texas to grow and attract skilled, higher-paying jobs that could go elsewhere in search of smart workers. A product of Texas public schools, Grieder touches on this reality; but sadly, Texas just took a big step back in meeting this challenge. In their recent session, legislators approved two major bills that will dial back the state’s school accountability system and its 30-year emphasis on ramping up academic standards. Perry unwisely signed those bills, which were a retreat from decades of bipartisan focus on improving Texas’s educational rigor.

 

A self-described military brat who spent some of her formative years in San Antonio, Grieder helps the reader understand how Texas got to be cheap and right by delving into our history. What results is a nuanced read that avoids the temptation to go saccharine about Texas’s frontier heritage. Yet she embraces the independent streak that gave rise to Sam Houston, who famously opposed Texas leaving the Union. 

One of the more revealing parts of this book is Grieder’s account of how Texans developed a lean government. It wasn’t so much out of meanness, although there has been some of that. Grieder attributes our approach to the fact that Texans developed as a breed that didn’t expect much from government, and she traces that attitude back to our cowboy culture and its “protolibertarian ethos.” I doubt those words have been used before to describe the cowpokes who hustled dogies along the Goodnight Trail. But she has a point. Early on, the private sector became a substitute for government, even in the delivery of services.

The resurgence of downtown Dallas is a good example of the private sector’s progressive role. The city has developed an arts district within the last decade that includes a prominent sculpture center, an opera house, and performing arts hall. Dallas did that with almost nothing but private money.

As Grieder explains, being pro-business in Texas does not mean being antigovernment. Texas has a long history of using government to support businesses. H. Ross Perot’s EDS Company got rich, at first, through processing Medicare and Medicaid claims; the oil business benefited from favorable tax laws; and the state’s vast agricultural industry has hauled down many federal subsidies. 

At the end of the book, Grieder raises the question of how Texas can sustain its model of being pro-business and championing limited government. Some Republicans in the state government are thinking about this: At the 2013 legislature’s beginning, Speaker Joe Straus toured the state talking about preparing Texas for 2030. His message was refreshing, emphasizing issues such as funding Texas’s 50-year water plan. By the session’s end in late spring, he and the GOP-led legislature had found a way to do it, and if voters approve their strategy in a ballot measure next month, Texas will be taking care of the infrastructure upgrades it needs in order to sustain its economy and fast population growth.

So, Straus and other Republicans are thinking about how to apply the ideals of limited government to the core needs of the state. I hope they succeed—because that’s how Texas can continue to be big, hot, cheap, and right.

William McKenzie is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News