Houston business leaders defy leadership by speaking out on Texas voting restrictions

Houston, Texas – Houston business leaders, including prominent members of the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP), penned a letter on Tuesday to the state government expressing their opposition to the restrictive voting measures already approved by the Texas Senate.

Voting rights activists say the Texas legislature's restrictive voting measures will disproportionately impact Black and brown Americans.
Voting rights activists say the Texas legislature's restrictive voting measures will disproportionately impact Black and brown Americans.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

According to the Houston Chronicle, 175 Houston business leaders signed on to a letter to Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, expressing their opposition to restrictions that would limit Houstonians' ability to vote.

Ten of the signees were board members of the Greater Houston Partnership, the largest chamber of commerce in the region. They condemned the GHP's official silence on the proposed voting legislation.

"When you have an organization that is supposed to reflect the diversity and inclusion, and has taken steps on its website to discuss racial equality but does not have the spine to bring forth to a vote an issue that is as important as this, we felt we had no choice but to bring it in a public forum," said Gerald Smith, a member of GHP's executive committee.

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The business leaders pointed out several points of contention with the proposed legislation, including its reduction of polling sites and hours, expansion of voter roll purges, and ban on drive-thru voting.

"These provisions, among others, will inevitably damage our competitiveness in attracting businesses and workers to Houston," the letter reads. "Especially as we aim to attract major conferences and sporting events, including the FIFA World Cup, voter suppression is a stain on our reputation that could cost our region millions of dollars."

That same day, a wider group of businesses formed Fair Elections Texas, which says it will oppose any state measures seeking to limit access to the ballot. Members include American Airlines, HP, Microsoft, and Patagonia, as well as Black and LGBT chambers of commerce in major cities including Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

The GHP has remained noticeably silent on the proposed voting restrictions

The proposed legislation will ban drive-thru voting, which allowed many Harris County voters to participate in the 2020 general election without risking their health and safety.
The proposed legislation will ban drive-thru voting, which allowed many Harris County voters to participate in the 2020 general election without risking their health and safety.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

The Greater Houston Partnership, established in 1840, has regularly lobbied the state legislature on various policy issues, even highly controversial ones. However, top leadership seems notably quiet on this particular issue.

The GHP over the summer expressed its commitment to promoting greater racial justice, saying its members "have an opportunity as Houstonians to lead the way in reforming broken systems, building up communities, offering support and removing barriers."

But when it came time to speak out against the new voting bills, the organization was nowhere to be heard, even though the proposed measures have been shown to have a disproportionately negative impact on Black and Latinx voters.

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Instead, the GHP issued an April 1 statement calling on the Texas legislature to strike a balance between ensuring voter access and ballot security.

Black and Latinx board members wrote a letter to top leadership urging them to sign on to a statement promoting an expansion rather than a restriction of ballot access. GHP President Bob Harvey had previously said he would hold a board meeting on the subject but then retracted the promise.

Harvey claimed there was "not a consensus" on the issue, which Tuesday's letter clearly disproves.

One of the board's most prominent Black members likened Harvey's response to "a different form of voter suppression."

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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