Hidalgo and Turner Cancel Events With Houston's Biggest Business Group Over Silence On Texas Voter Bills

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner won't speak before the Greater Houston Partnership this year.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner won't speak before the Greater Houston Partnership this year.
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After weeks of pressuring the Greater Houston Partnership to get off the sidelines and speak out against controversial state voting bills, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Wednesday that they were fed-up with the organization’s silence and officially cancelled their annual State of the City and County speeches, which typically headline high-dollar fundraising luncheons for the group.

The decision to publicly snub the Greater Houston Partnership signals the extent of Hidalgo and Turner’s fury toward the city’s most powerful business organization over its failure to publicly oppose House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7, two Republican-backed bills that Democrats argue would suppress the vote of minorities, the disabled and residents of major cities like Houston.

In a press conference announcing their decision, Turner said that as a Black man, “I don’t have the luxury of being silent on this issue.”

“Everybody should be standing up. Fighting for people’s right to vote should not be falling on the backs of Blacks and Browns and people who are disabled,” Turner said. “That shouldn’t just be our fight. It’s everybody’s fight. If it’s going to happen, it should happen over all of us standing up and saying no.”

Hidalgo said the Greater Houston Partnership is “sticking out like a sore thumb for failing to speak up.”

“Right now, voting rights are falling like dominoes in states across the country, from Georgia to Arizona to right here in Texas,” Hidalgo said. “And yet, the largest chamber of commerce in the Houston area is silent.”

“An organization,” she continued, “that states they support a diverse 21st century economy and opportunity for all, that committed to address racial equity and injustice after the murder of George Floyd.”

“The blunt truth is you can’t stand for that and at the same time be silent on voter suppression,” she said.

Hidalgo argued that she and Turner “can’t in good conscience stand on the dais of the partnership when their will to represent their members and their community so easily crumbles in a time of need.”

Although dozens of local and national business leaders — and even ten members of the partnership’s board of directors — have written to state legislators to voice their opposition to the two voting bills, the Greater Houston Partnership itself has refused to take an official stance.

The two bills include provisions that specifically target Harris County by barring local innovations like drive-thru voting and 24-hour voting the county implemented to make it easier to cast a ballot in 2020. If passed, the legislation would limit the number of voting machines and polling sites in each county, and would allow partisan poll watchers to videotape voters, which the bills’ opponents argue would make it easier for conservatives to harass and threaten minorities.

The voting limits have been proposed to combat so-called "voter fraud" pointed to by former President Donald Trump and his allies during the last election, although no evidence of significant fraud has come to light in Texas or elsewhere.

In a statement, the Greater Houston Partnership said the group regrets Hidalgo and Turner’s decisions to cancel “these long-standing events, which our members greatly enjoy,” and claimed that its 100-member board doesn’t have a clear consensus on either HB 6 or SB 7.

“As in this case, this process does not always lead to alignment with our elected officials,” the statement read.

Hidalgo took issue with the fact that the partnership’s president and CEO Bob Harvey has refused to take a full board vote on whether members support or oppose those bills according to multiple members of the board.

“The irony of the refusal to take a vote on voter suppression, lest the membership come out in favor of protecting the vote, is not lost on me,” Hidalgo said.

Turner chafed at the idea that speaking in favor of or against these voting bills is purely a partisan political calculation.

“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you can still hold your party affiliation. But voter intimidation [and] voter suppression is not partisan,” Turner said, “it’s just wrong.”

Hidalgo agreed: “No Harris County leader worth their salt should stay neutral during times of injustice. No Harris County leader, period, should stay silent as Harris County is attacked.”

She praised business leaders who have stood up in opposition to HB 6 and SB 7 “because they recognize it’s not just wrong to suppress the vote. It’s also bad for businesses,” and claimed that “voter suppression could cost Texas 10s of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs” and could jeopardize Houston’s chances to host the World Cup in 2026.

Hidalgo also claimed the partnership’s decision to stay silent while making public statements that it supports civil rights is just good old-fashioned hypocrisy.

“Our diversity and rights should be protected, not commodified for a brochure,” Hidalgo said. “We live in a time that demands action, not just lip service.”

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