Houston, Harris County annual addresses no longer hosted by Greater Houston Partnership over Texas voter bill dispute

Houston, Harris County annual addresses no longer hosted by Greater Houston Partnership over Texas voter bill dispute

Houston and Harris County annual addresses will no longer be hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership because of a Texas voter bill dispute. (Courtesy HTV)

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo will not collaborate with the region’s chamber of commerce, the Greater Houston Partnership, to present their annual State of the City and State of the County addresses. Turner and Hidalgo cited an ongoing dispute with Greater Houston Partnership about whether to publicly denounce a controversial pair of voter access laws in the Texas Legislature as their reason for terminating the agreement.

“You do not have the right to stand down when institutions are being deprived,” Turner told reporters May 5. “This is the time that you must stand up and say something.”

The annual addresses are typically hosted and recorded by the Greater Houston Partnership and in pre-pandemic times, presented to an audience of business leaders. Turner announced that Houston’s 2021 State of the City address will be hosted by the Houston First Corp., the quasi-governmental organization in charge of the city’s performing arts and convention facilities. Arrangements for the State of the County address are not finalized, Hidalgo said.

Conflict arose over the past week when the Greater Houston Partnership denied requests among members to host a board vote about whether the business organization should publicly denounce the voter access laws currently advancing through the Legislature.

“The largest chamber of commerce in the Houston area is silent. An organization that states they support a diverse, 21st century economy and opportunity for all that committed to racial equity and [ending] injustice after the murder of George Floyd,” Hidalgo said. “The blunt truth is you can’t stand for that and at the same time be silent on voter suppression.”

The bills, House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7, are touted by their authors as voting security measures. They would allow poll watchers to videotape polling sites and limit the use of mail-in and drive-thru ballots. Both voting methods were popular in Harris County during the 2020 general election as concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic drove local leaders to push for alternatives to traditional voting booth polling sites.

Over 50 business leaders including those from national corporations such as Microsoft, HP and American Airlines signed a letter from voting rights group Fair Elections Texas urging legislators to expand voting access.

Representatives of the Greater Houston Partnership later issued a statement in response to cancelation.

“We trust that mayor Turner and judge Hidalgo respect that the Partnership has its own process by which our 140-member board takes policy positions on behalf of our 1,000 member companies, a process that requires a clear board consensus which does not exist on the legislation. As in this case, this process does not always lead to alignment with our elected officials.”

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