When Republicans and Corporations Start Looking Good, Please Pass the Hemlock

Bill Hammond
Bill Hammond
Texas Association of Business

R.G. Ratcliffe, former investigative ace for The Houston Chronicle and long one of the top reporters in Texas (maybe the top), has a wonderful piece up this week on the Texas Monthly politics blog about Bill Hammond, chief executive officer of the Texas Association of Business (state Chamber of Commerce) and a way-back East Dallas boy before he moved to Austin and Gomorrah.

The piece leapt out when I saw it, because I had just had a long sidewalk dog-walking chat with some fellow East Dallas worn-out hippies in which we discussed the very disturbing fact that corporations are beginning to look enlightened to us, given the alternatives.

Hammond was no hippie. He's a lifelong Republican, scion of an old Lakewood family. He was still running the family business, Dallas Tent and Awning, when I knew him 125 years ago. I remember sitting by the neighborhood pool with him and his wife talking about issues that were close to the bone in East Dallas -- schools, poverty in the 'hood, crime, what to do about anything.

Ratcliffe cites the conservative Republican credentials Hammond accrued in the intervening years, and they are impressive. He won great respect as a state legislator when he fought for the state's first wave of school reform. Ratcliffe dug up what was always my own favorite Bill Hammond quote of the period: "The first name of every geography teacher in Texas is 'Coach.'"

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When I knew him back in the '80s, Hammond was keenly aware of social conditions in the world around him. I remember talking to him about the influx of poverty into the new North Dallas apartment blocks -- back then it was mainly white poverty -- and the adjustments the school system would have to make to engage that new reality.

His prescriptions tended to be Republican -- more good jobs, rigor, literacy -- and mine back then were decidedly Democratic, based on better funding of government programs. But I always had the feeling we were talking about the same thing, a better world for kids to grow up in.

Ratcliffe wrote about him for Texas Monthly because Hammond stood up Tuesday in Austin with a Dallas Democrat, Representative Rafael Anchia, to speak in opposition to a Tea Party nutcase bill designed to make it easier to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation. Just what we need.

From Ratcliffe's piece:

With companies such as AT&T, American Airlines, Apple, Dell, Chevron, BP, and Shell now offering same-sex partner benefits, it is easy to see why Hammond and the Texas Association of Business oppose the religious freedom law and other perceived anti-gay measures. "These amendments are bad for business. They're bad for Texas. They would devastate economic development, tourism and the convention business," Hammond said. "Major corporations across the board oppose this legislation. They would not want to come to Texas or expand in Texas. Conventions, the Super Bowl, the Final Four, all those things would be at risk in Texas if this was to become part of the constitution."

That happens to be exactly what my curb-side dog-walking chat was about the day before with my fellow East Dallasites. All the teachers we know, formerly a bastion of traditional liberalism, are so tied in knots fighting school reform and trying to preserve seniority pay that their liberalism has devolved into some kind of simple-minded paranoia about the Koch brothers. And, hey, I'm paranoid about the Koch brothers. But it leaves other problems to solve.

The Ted Cruz right wing has gone somewhere way off the deep end into science-hating race-baiting la-la-land. We can look at where they are, and the only thing we know for sure is that no good will come from there. Ever.

Then we look at the big middle, and we see these huge institutions like the military, and, yes, the corporations, and by contrast they look like Homer's Elysian Fields, where Zeus and his friends lived in perfect harmony. Please note: I said, "in contrast."

We're talking about being in contrast to crazy people. But the conversation is enlivened by the fact that we seem to be surrounded on all sides by crazy people. And now they're all packin'.

It's hard for an old hippie to even say it, but sometimes I look at what the loons are cooking up down there in Austin and some of the stuff that comes out of Collin County here in North Texas. Then I look at those huge corporate walls and how they run their shows inside. And I think, "Maybe I could ask if the wife and I could just spend nights in there."

That, or ask for hemlock.


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