MARSHALL, TEXAS—Even in this small, quaint East Texas town, 20 miles from the Louisiana border, everything seems larger than life.
From the endless rolling hills to the massive German shepherds that gave chase during my ill-advised runs in the countryside to the heaping portions of barbeque at the Country Tavern in nearby Kilgore (where I, keeping kosher, settled for a huge green salad), stuff in Texas just seems bigger.
Politics, too, looms larger and more potent here than elsewhere. A former judge and the first Republican to represent this district since Reconstruction, Rep. Louie Gohmert is the kind of conservative that makes Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin seem squishy.
Among his more notable achievements, he voted against both TARP and the stimulus; he supported a two-month tax income tax holiday for all Americans; he co-sponsored legislation that would compel all presidential candidates to make available certified copies of their birth-certificates; he went on national television to decry the scourge of “terror babies,” or the Islamist equivalent of anchor babies born to foreigners in the U.S.; and he accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of seeking the power “to force you to eat more fruits and vegetables.”
It’s not just the politicians who embody supercharged conservative values, but the grassroots activists too. Earlier this year, a billboard in Marshall made national waves, asking passersby, simply: “Voted Obama? Embarrassed Yet?”
Another billboard just outside my hotel was all black with the following message scrawled in bright yellow writing: “Had Enough of: Stimulus…Bailouts…Homosexual Marriage? Then Vote Republican.” There didn’t seem to be anyone in particular who approved that message.
But what’s really big in Texas nowadays is economic recovery, especially compared to California. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than half of the net new jobs created in the United States over the past 12 months originated here in Texas: 119,000 out of 214,000. Amazingly, during those same twelve months, California shed 112,000 net jobs—almost the same number that Texas created.
While Californians have been afflicted by a 12.4% unemployment rate—nearly three points above the national average—Texans enjoy an 8.1% rate, a point and a half below the U.S. as a whole.
So how has the Lone Star State done it? Simple: lower taxes, less spending, and a friendly business climate.
Unlike California and many states in the union, Texas has no state income tax. So while states like Washington, which also has no such tax, are entertaining ballot measures that would actually add a state income tax in the middle of a recession, Texas has remained blissfully free of such a levy. And while Texas imposes an oil severance tax, which we in California still (thankfully) don’t have, the burden it imposes pales in comparison to our cumulative tax load.
Furthermore, the state government in Austin spends much less than comparably-sized states. According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the state’s budget in 2008 amounted to 17.3% of GDP, five points less than the nation as a whole and eight points less than the Golden State. Spending per capita in California is 33% greater than in Texas. Indeed, it’s difficult for the legislature to spend much when it meets only every other year.
But most impressively, the state goes out of its way to recruit businesses to its precincts. Governor Rick Perry famously takes “hunting trips” in California for businesses sick and tired of our deadly combination of high taxes and absurd regulation. Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband recently moved workers from the Orange County office of his CB Richard Ellis real estate company to Dallas.
According to the Claremont Institute’s William Voegeli, between 2000 and 2007, California lost 1.1 million people while Texas absorbed 500,000 new arrivals. And whereas California for the first time in more than 100 years will likely not receive a new congressional seat after the 2010 decennial redistricting, Texas is set to gain as many as four new congressmen.
So sure enough, Texas isn’t just big, it’s getting bigger, and at the expense of states like our own. Until we turn things around quickly in California by learning from the Lone Star state, Texas will keep eating our lunch.