Business alliance tries to counter tea party clout

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Associated Press

Posted on January 6, 2014 at 4:05 AM

Updated Monday, Jan 6 at 6:32 AM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — An alliance of 10 major business trade groups is supporting mainstream Republicans in upcoming Texas GOP primaries, hoping to counter the clout of tea party forces, according to a published report Sunday.

The Dallas Morning News reports (http://dallasne.ws/Kt23cH ) that the Texas Future Business Alliance has begun making donations and sending out mailers. It is supporting Republican candidates who during last year's legislative session backed increasing state spending for water infrastructure development, highway construction and public education.

The alliance encompasses 10 business organizations, including the chemical industry, bankers, builders and contractors. Its effort comes in response to fiscally conservative groups that have backed tea party primary candidates who fiercely oppose growing the size of government.

What's happening in Texas mirrors a similar national schism between establishment Republicans and the more-conservative wing of the party. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently pledged $50 million to back pro-business Republicans in U.S. Senate primaries in an effort to keep them safe from far-right primary candidates.

Texas Business Alliance spokesman David Polyansky said the group aims to "recognize leaders dedicated to keeping Texas as the best state in the nation for business development and job growth."

But Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of the fiscal-hawk group Empower Texans, countered that the Texas Future Business Alliance is out for little more than to ensure that taxpayer dollars flow to its interests.

"They want people who will vote for cronyism and corporate welfare," Sullivan told the newspaper.

Political observers say what's fundamentally at work is disagreements over how much Texas should be spending on infrastructure projects.

The GOP-controlled Texas Legislature in 2013 refused to tap the $8 billion in Texas' rainy day fund to help pay for water projects in the drought-plagued state or help relieve crumbling and traffic-clogged highways.

Instead, under pressure from tea party groups, lawmakers left it up to voters. They put a $2 billion referendum on the state ballot this November for water projects. Voters will also eventually decide whether to divert about $900 million annually for highways.

But some incumbents now fear they are vulnerable in districts so conservative that the GOP primary is the only competitive contest.

Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, is one of about two dozen Republicans the business alliance has backed. He said its support is vital to balance groups on the far right.

Keffer said he is a conservative who wants the state to keep pace with its booming population growth. He said the trade coalition is welcomed since it is willing to "support those people who are trying to govern."

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

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