Tolerance of cultural diversity has become a hallmark of Houston’s ascent, despite the state’s checkered history of race relations. Texans take individual freedom and individual responsibility very seriously, so meritocracy comes naturally to them. In the words of George Strake, one of Houston’s most venerated oilmen, “Everyone’s welcome here, so long as you’re willing to pull the wagon and not just sit in it.” That is perhaps why anti-immigrant feeling is not nearly as pronounced in Texas as it is in other parts of the Southwest. Like Detroit, Houston is minority white, but more diverse: Blacks make up 25 percent of the population, Hispanics 37 percent, and Asians (chiefly Vietnamese and Chinese) more than 5 percent.
Texas has managed to preserve something very essential about America, namely the frontier mentality, what the great Texas historian T. R. Fehrenbach described as the “cult of courage.” Or, in the words of Mr. Strake, “Give me wide open spaces. Let me enjoy the good times, and don’t feel sorry for me in bad times.” Naturally, this leads to a certain vision of government: Defend our shores, deliver the mail, and get the hell out of the way.
Gov. Rick Perry has been true to that vision. When recession created enormous gaps in the state budget, as in 2003 and 2011, Perry resisted pressure to raise taxes or raid the state’s “rainy day fund,” and managed to balance the budget mostly through spending cuts. (The state still has no personal-income tax.) Perry’s signature tort reforms essentially broke the power of the trial bar and have drawn thousands of doctors and substantial business investment to Texas. The state’s environmental health has improved dramatically as state regulators worked to meet national air-quality standards in cost-effective ways without imposing needless burdens on business. Houston, home of the world’s largest petrochemical industrial complex, satisfied federal ozone standards in 2009 and 2010, after massive investments by the private sector. Perry can justly run on a record of keeping government off people’s backs and letting the free market innovate its way out of recession. The Lone Star State is now the industrial engine of the American economy, singlehandedly responsible for half of the country’s job growth in recent years.
James Madison believed that one purpose of government was “to reward the best and punish the worst.” In Detroit, the best were punished until they finally left, and under Obama, the country is marching down that very same slope. That’s the significance of losing half our deepwater drilling rigs to other shores, of forcing corporations to relocate to Europe in order to avoid stifling corporate tax rates, of shutting down coal plants regardless of recent retrofits and other emissions improvements.
As the next election looms, Americans should consider how rapidly we could unleash the power of American industry and bounce out of this recession, if instead of taking our cue from Detroit, we follow Houston.
— Mario Loyola is director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation [full disclosure: the center benefits from the sales of Rick Perry's book Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington]. This article appeared in the September 19, 2011, issue of National Review.