This commentary appeared in multiple publications on April 20, 2015.
On the eve of the Battle of San Jacinto, Sam Houston told his troops they must conquer or perish: “It is vain to look for present aid: none is at hand. We must now act or abandon all hope! Rally to the standard, and be no longer the scoff of mercenary tongues! Be men, be free men, that your children may bless their father’s name.”
At the Texas Public Policy Foundation, we have a habit of invoking Sam Houston and the victory at San Jacinto. The man and the battle are powerful symbols of standing firm in the conviction of one’s cause, even in the face of imposing odds, even when you’re alone, and seeing the fight through to victory.
As a conservative, free-market think tank that’s been advocating for liberty in Texas for twenty-five years, the symbol of San Jacinto inspires us. Whether it’s pushing back against special interests seeking to use regulations as a shield against competition, or standing against the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, or protesting rampant state spending, we know what it’s like to face down powerful opposition and seemingly insurmountable odds.
But you only find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. For a long time in Texas, there was no one to stand for conservative principles in state government. It wasn’t until Dr. Jim Leininger, a businessman with almost no experience in politics, decided to get involved in education reform that a voice for free markets and limited government was established in Texas.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation has since grown from a one-man operation in a San Antonio warehouse to a dynamic institution exerting influence at the state, national, and international level. With nearly fifty employees, we’re leading the push for reform in criminal justice, education, health care, energy, and a host of other areas.
This San Jacinto Day, we’re celebrating a milestone with the inauguration of our new headquarters at Ninth and Congress. And although we’re excited that liberty will have a new address in Austin, our mission remains public policy reform for the preservation and increase of liberty, in Texas and beyond.
That mission is more important now than ever. We believe that as Texas goes, so goes the country. For us, that means safeguarding the Texas miracle and the model of governance that made it possible.
Public policy has been at the heart of the Texas miracle. With low taxes and light regulation, Texas companies have flourished while firms from across the country have moved to set up shop in the Lone Star State. As a result, Texans have prospered and our state has become a beacon for liberty.
Critics say the Texas economy is a fiction based on high oil prices. Now that oil prices are falling, they say, our economy will grind to a halt as it did when oil prices crashed in the 1980s.
But Texas today is not the Texas of thirty years ago. The hard lessons of the 1986 crash drove us to diversify and enact pro-growth policies that eventually became the Texas model.
New industries arose throughout the state: healthcare in Houston, retail in Dallas, and a burgeoning Silicon Valley of the South in Austin. State government weaned itself of reliance on oil and gas revenues and set up a Rainy Day Fund to protect the state from future economic shocks.
In the 1990s, NAFTA lowered trade costs and boosted exports nationwide. But low taxes kept exporters in Texas, which has been the top exporting state for 13 consecutive years.
During the Great Recession, Texas alone kept the national economy afloat creating jobs while unemployment soared elsewhere.
All of this did not happen by accident. It has been the work of decades, and to keep it will be the work of decades to come.
Brooke Rollins is president and CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.