Entrepreneurs

Opinion: Ask Not What Your Senator Can Do for You. Ask Why He Isn’t Doing It

Forget the actual people of Texas; Ted Cruz certainly did.

His trip to Cancun after a record snowfall overwhelmed the local energy grid last week, illustrated in stark detail how the state’s junior Senator really feels about his constituents: He simply doesn’t care.

Aside from the fact that abandoning his constituents to literally freeze to death is morally wrong, it’s also just a bad behavior for someone who someday will want those people to vote for him. Texas area businesses should demand more. Frankly, businesses across the U.S. should demand more of their elected officials, too. 

The infrastructure issues that the Texas experience highlights is most likely happening in your area–albeit in different ways. In Texas, it’s the energy grid; In New York City it’s the subway system; in California, it’s the failure by Pacific Gas & Electric to update its electric infrastructure that has resulted in wildfires that have killed more than 100 people in the past three years. 

Business owners of any size across the U.S. should want their elected officials to spend their time mitigating the potential for actual disasters that will cost U.S. companies millions–and certainly not abscond when the going gets rough.

In Texas, you’re getting excuses. Two conservative political commentators, Dinesh D’Souza and Erick Erickson, recently made this argument: “The guy is a U.S. Senator. What can he possibly do about the Texas power grid? If he leaves the state, that’s one less person taking up precious power and resources.”  Meanwhile Texas Governor Greg Abbott wrongly says the real problem is wind turbines, and the mayor of Colorado City, Texas says the city, power company, and any other service provider owes you exactly nothing, so quit your whining and start building your own personal oil refinery before your family freezes to death (that mayor subsequently resigned).

Because, yes, what can a U.S. Senator–one of only 100, with access to the resources of the federal government of the richest nation on earth–possibly be expected to do in a moment of crisis besides simply getting out of the way? In this moment Cruz, and his supporters, revealed just what they think the job of a U.S. Senator is: to cut taxes and regulations and eliminate workplace rules, as well as go on cable news shows to chastise others.

Cruz and his defenders believe this in part because, well, this is all too often all that the business community has typically asked for. For years the standard for considering a politician “pro-business” has basically boiled down to support for lower taxes and less regulation. And it’s that less regulation part that’s coming back to bite Texas businesses now. 

In this case, failure has many fathers. The Texas electric grid, separated from the rest of the United States because state lawmakers didn’t want to submit to federal regulations put out by Roosevelt administration in 1935. By operating solely within the state of Texas the grid was able to evade federal oversight. (Some parts of West Texas, the Panhandle, and East Texas are affiliated with the two main national grids, and had fewer problems with power during the recent storm.) Also at fault: The weak regulatory regime from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit corporation charged with overseeing the Texas grid. And the deregulated Texas electric market that provided cheap electricity but no incentive to beef up capacity or winterize for emergencies, and left Texans who still had power with bills of as much as $5,000 for a few days of electricity

It’s not like this was unexpected. After a bitter cold snap in 2011, a federal analysis showed that many natural gas providers were unprepared for severe weather, and recommended winterizing wells to prevent freezing. The cost was not cheap–at the time, a projected $1.75 billion to winterize around one third of the active natural gas wells in the state. 

It’s understandable that businesses don’t want to do these things. They cost money. It’s even understandable that those businesses would donate to politicians who promise to keep them from being forced to do these things. (Abbott has raised $26 million over the past six years from the oil and natural gas industry.)

What’s more, Texas businesses have no doubt benefited from years of unfettered growth–Austin was ranked Inc.’s No. 1 Surge City for two years straight. However, as is now obvious, that growth comes at a cost, and a responsibility, to insure basic services can meet increased demand.

That your business has had years of cheap power means it now doesn’t have any electricity at all in a crucial time. The lack of any vision for utilities providing essential services beyond an unregulated marketplace means that your business faces uncertainty around some of the very basic things you need to grow. And many of the solutions now on offer–including to buy a generators or provide on-site battery storage–just put the burden back on the business owner.

There is a lot of money sloshing around the United States. Money is easy to get. You know what’s not easy to get? Actual competent service from public servants who have a higher vision for their job than Senator Cruz. It’s that kind of service that we need so desperately now, as our national infrastructure frays under the weight of years of delayed maintenance and climate change stresses. Businesses need to demand more from their government than just lower taxes and less regulation. 

Or to put it another way: If you’re backing a candidate for office who promises lower taxes and less regulation, that candidate isn’t promising you enough, and you’re selling your support for too cheap a price. It’s easy for a politician to argue that the government should have no role in, well, just about anything, and then proceed to do exactly that. The harder thing–yet the necessary thing for businesses–is to back people who want to actually govern.

Demand more. Demand public servants that actually want to serve. Demand servants who treat their stewardship of the government with the same seriousness that you treat the stewardship of your business. Demand long-term, sustainable thinking, not representatives who can’t conceive of their job as anything beyond producing short-term profits for their biggest backers. Think big, and don’t settle.



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