By Fred Grube
East Texas came through for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in a resounding way during the November 3 elections.
Cornyn’s comfortable victory over Democrat M.J. Hegar reflected strong support for the senator across Texas. But it is important to note that Cornyn did especially well in my home region of East Texas. While winning 54 percent of the vote statewide, He got 75 percent of the vote in Polk County and 66 percent of the vote in Nacogdoches County. He got 73 percent of the vote in Angelina County, which includes Lufkin, and 70 percent of the vote in Smith County, which is based in Tyler.
East Texans strongly support Cornyn because we believe he will stand up for our interests and our values. And there is no time like the present. Our region is counting on Cornyn to take action on legislation that could save 700 needed jobs in our region.
Last year, the U.S. House unanimously approved H.R. 759, authored by East Texas Rep. Brian Babin. This bill would make clear that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas in Livingston is allowed by federal law to offer electronic bingo at its Naskila Gaming facility. Passage of the Babin legislation would effectively stop the state of Texas ongoing legal efforts to shut Naskila down — efforts that, if successful, would put hundreds of East Texans out of work.
Cornyn has held up the Babin bill, telling a Senate committee not to hold a hearing on it. But his stance is hurting East Texas and we are urging him to reconsider. At a time when the pandemic is still having a severe impact on jobs and businesses in East Texas, we need stability for the people who work at Naskila and for our region. Cornyn can provide that stability by ending his opposition and helping the Senate pass this bill before the end of this year.
Naskila has strong support in the East Texas region that just demonstrated its loyalty to Cornyn and the Republican ticket. More than 70 business, political and civic organizations have approved statements of support for the Babin bill. Some 14,000 visitors to Naskila this fall have sent letters to Cornyn and his fellow Texan, Sen. Ted Cruz, urging them to take action. A bipartisan group of 19 Texans who serve in the U.S. House of Representatives also sent Cornyn a letter earlier this year urging him to support the Babin bill.
But there has been no movement. The fact that we have received little in the way of response from our senators suggests that they are taking East Texas for granted.
Their indifference so far does not match the way that our community views Naskila and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe. Naskila has had to close twice this year in order to protect public safety, and both times, it has continued to pay salaries and benefits for employees so they are not collecting taxpayer-funded unemployment. This has illustrated the commitment of Naskila — the second-largest employer in Polk County — to its employees and to the community’s well-being.
The politics of Texas are changing. I regret the fact that cities and suburbs are moving more toward Democrats, but in many parts of Texas, they are. In the last eight years, Republicans’ margin of victory in presidential races has dropped from 16 points to 6 points. Regions such as East Texas are keeping statewide Republicans afloat. Yet it’s difficult to imagine that they would be indifferent to the needs of a major employer in larger metropolitan areas.
East Texas has done our part. We came through for Senator Cornyn and protected his job. Now we need him to protect ours.
Fred Grube is the Chairman of the Polk County Republican Party.