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Analysis: Selling Ideas to the People Who Influence Texas Lawmakers

The more prescriptive a party platform becomes, the more it reads like a directive to the Legislature. In Texas, the GOP platform becomes a way to build the kind of grassroots support that can spur action from legislators. That, in turn, attracts lobbyists.

The entrance to the 2016 Republican Party of Texas convention at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas.

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Maybe you’re wondering why the Republican Party of Texas decided to take a position against the state’s car dealers and in favor of Tesla, the electric car maker.

It probably helps that Tesla is on the party’s side in a free-market fight, and it probably also helps that the company had lobbyists on hand to argue its side.

They — and others — are hoping to leap from the platform’s lips, so to speak, to lawmakers’ ears.

Here’s the language approved by the delegates at last week’s state GOP convention: “We support allowing consumers in Texas to be able to purchase cars directly from manufacturers.”

That’s the Tesla plank.

Another one, brought to you by Uber, Lyft and their ilk: “We support legislative solutions to regulatory barriers for transportation entrepreneurship, to allow ride-sharing companies to compete openly for business in our state.”

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The platform is not just a statement of principles, but looks more like a legislative program, or the marketing booklet for one. It’s not in the legal language of a bill, but it is a fat version of the flyers candidates hand to voters when they’re seeking support.

The more prescriptive the platform becomes, the more it reads like a directive to the Legislature. In Texas, where that Legislature has had a Republican majority for more than a decade, the platform becomes a way to build the kind of grassroots support that can spur action from senators and representatives.

In short, it’s worth hiring a lobbyist to get your stuff in there. Even better, political parties are not government organizations, and lobbyists don’t have to report everything they do at political conventions.

They still have to record the meals and other treats they feed to candidates and officeholders, but their efforts to persuade delegates are strictly between the persuaders and the persuaded.

Here’s an industry plank, in language (and at a length) you just don’t hear from anyone except policy professionals: “Removal of Government Barriers- We support free-market solutions and immediate removal of government barriers to the production and distribution of energy including restrictions on: export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG) worldwide; drilling, production operations and transportation of petroleum products on public and private lands and waters; modernization of existing and construction of new refineries; electric power generation and distribution; federal gas mileage standards (CAFE standards) and fuel blends; development and use of wind energy, coal-fired plants, solar, and nuclear power, and biosources without government subsidies.”

Yes, fellow citizens, energy lobbyists are mingling with the partisans.

Some planks are specific enough to raise your eyebrows but general enough to sound more like ideology than draft legislation.

This could reasonably be read as a pitch for small government: “We call upon the Texas Legislature to review all business/professional licensing programs and associated licensing for boards for the purpose of abolishing as many as reasonably possible and repealing those laws, rules, and regulations that exist merely to generate revenue from the licensing process.”

Perhaps this is an argument for the benevolent effects of the free markets: “We encourage free-market solutions for providing utilities whenever possible. We support that all types of insurance rates, to include (but not limited to) health, life, title, auto, and homeowners insurance should be set through free-market forces alone. We support efforts to shrink the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association to reduce the liabilities it imposes on state taxpayers.”

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It’s their platform and they can put anything in there that they want, for whatever reasons they choose. This is politics, a playground for good ideas — and bad ones, too. The lobbying might not be transparent: Some of the lobbyists at the convention were in business apparel, while others were in T-shirts and jeans, indistinguishable from the delegates themselves. It is, however, legal.

At the end, it was down to the delegates themselves. Nobody crammed the platform down their gullets. Those delegates voted on each of the 266 planks, approved them all, and then accepted the full platform.

That plank-by-plank voting employed by the party at this year’s convention could give some extra rhetorical weight to lobbyists and others who managed to get their pet propositions into the platform. If all of the GOP’s state delegates think manufacturers ought to be able to sell cars, and Republican lawmakers want to keep those delegates happy, maybe it was worthwhile to place a sentence in the party platform.

Showing off the sparkling red Model S in a booth at the convention’s exhibit hall probably didn’t hurt Tesla’s case. The Texas Association of Automobile Dealers also bought a booth — but they didn’t bring any cars.

Tesla walked away with the sale.

Disclosure: Tesla Motors, Uber, Lyft and the Texas Automobile Dealers Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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