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Lt. Gov. Race Could Be Good for Business

State Sens. Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte have taken to promoting their business credentials while campaigning to become the state's lieutenant governor in a race that influential groups say should be good for business.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, speaks at the Texas Business Roundtable candidate forum on Jan. 14, and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee, addresses delegates at the 2014 Texas Democratic Convention on June 27.

On the campaign trail, state Sens. Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte, the Republican and Democratic nominees for lieutenant governor, have promoted their credentials in supporting companies big and small.

And the influential groups whose endorsements they seek have noticed, saying that this year’s race for lieutenant governor should be good for business.

Will Newton, executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, which will endorse a candidate in September, said “there’s no telling” whom the organization would select because both Patrick and Van de Putte have worked on legislation for the group.

“For us and for our members’ vote,” Newton said, “it’s generally going to come down to who has the better record and who has carried major pieces of legislation for us.”

Van de Putte and Patrick have both drawn praise from business groups. Van de Putte, who owned a pharmacy in San Antonio, and Patrick, who owns and operates talk radio stations in Houston and Dallas, say their Senate records prove they are the best candidates for business. And the business community has been receptive to both pitches.

In Texas, Republicans have traditionally won the support of business leaders because of their advocacy for low regulation and low taxes. Endorsements from major business interests groups have largely gone Patrick’s way. But Van de Putte, a former member of the Federation of Independent Business, has also picked up contributions from prominent business leaders who are taking a more public role in supporting her campaign.

Since entering the Senate in 2007, Patrick has emphasized  his fiscally conservative position that has focused on reducing the size of state government and cutting spending — a platform that has been integral to his campaign for lieutenant governor.

It has also garnered him support within the business community. Last week, Patrick picked up an endorsement from the political arm of the Texas Association of Business, and he counts endorsements from large associations representing some of the state’s manufacturers and homebuilders. 

Patrick said he expected to hold wide support among business groups because of his votes for tort reform and repealing the franchise tax — two major business issues of which, he says, Van de Putte is on the “wrong side.”

“In some issues, you can agree or disagree over rhetoric, but on other issues you have a voting record,” Patrick said. “From a voting standpoint, there is no comparison to my opponent’s record and my record regarding being pro-business.”

Van de Putte said her experience and her understanding of the issues facing small businesses, including a convoluted tax system, would give her an edge with the business vote.

But Van de Putte faces an uphill battle against Patrick in a state that remains reliably Republican and has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in two decades. While Patrick says he plans to obtain endorsements from all of the major business groups, Van de Putte pointed out that several prominent business leaders were helping her fill her campaign coffers.

Her list of fundraisers includes one to be hosted by Edward E. Whitacre Jr., former chairman and chief executive of General Motors and AT&T, and Henry Bartell Zachry Jr., who heads the H.B. Zachry Company. 

The San Antonio business leaders have contributed to several Republican and Democratic candidates in the past, according to campaign filings, but they have chosen to raise money for Van de Putte in this election cycle.

Van de Putte said that there is one issue where Patrick could find himself at odds with state business groups — the state’s economic development funds.

The deal-closing Texas Enterprise Fund is used by Gov. Rick Perry to award taxpayer-funded incentives to companies looking to bring their business to the state in exchange for creating jobs, while the Texas Emerging Technology Fund offers grants to start-up companies and researchers.

Patrick has previously called the funds “government handouts” and proposed eliminating both funds, which Perry and other Republicans have championed. Van de Putte said eliminating the funds was not a viable strategy for improving the state’s economic development when pitted against other states offering their own incentives.

“Maybe it’s because Dan Patrick hasn’t been in the Legislature as long, but I was around when we lost great opportunities because we didn’t have these funds,” Van de Putte said.

She said she would work to preserve the funds if the state improves its oversight of them and demands refunds from companies that do not meet job creation expectations. She said such a move would open up grant opportunities for small businesses.

This week, Patrick said he found the concept of government “picking business and losers” problematic. He added that the fate of the funds would ultimately be up to the state’s next governor but that “at minimum” they needed to be dramatically reformed to increase transparency and allow small businesses to also tap into the funds.

Both candidates are also making their cases to local chambers of commerce, which do not formally endorse candidates but often meet with them so their their members can learn the candidates’ positions on key issues.

For some of the chambers representing the state’s metropolitan areas, those issues are focused on improving infrastructure to help attract new business — namely funding for transportation projects — and further restoring the billions of dollars that were cut from public education by the Legislature in 2011 to help maintain and support a viable workforce.

Both Patrick and Van de Putte voted in favor of allowing voters to consider a constitutional amendment that would enable the state to tap into the state’s Rainy Day Fund to provide increased funding for road construction and maintenance.

But the candidates are at odds when it comes to increasing funding for education.

Van de Putte has called for reversing the $2 billion in cuts to public education that have not been fully restored and finding new revenue sources for education. Patrick said he would be apprehensive about providing additional dollars to schools that failed to meet their marks and indicated that he would continue to apply his low-spending mentality to education.

“No one in the Legislature wants to lift up our students and our failing schools more than me,” Patrick said. “Just throwing money at it, that doesn’t accomplish anything,”

When it comes to choosing between her and Patrick, Van de Putte said business leaders “know their choices are going to be to invest or to slash.”

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business and AT&T are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. 

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Politics State government 2014 elections Dan Patrick Texas Legislature