Abbott’s Opposition Threatens Economic Recovery in East Texas.

The economic recovery from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in Texas has been a bit sluggish. While unemployment rates are down from their pandemic peak, hiring is slowing: Texas added just 13,000 net jobs in April, which was considerably less than the 100,000 jobs added the prior month.

The uncertainty hanging over the economy makes it even more curious that our state leadership continues fighting to eliminate nearly 2,000 Texas jobs in economically distressed regions. But once again, here we are.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved H.R. 2208, which would clarify federal law to ensure that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas near Livingston and Ysleta del Sur Pueblo near El Paso can legally offer electronic bingo on their reservations. Together, 1,700 Texas jobs are tied to these bingo facilities, but the state of Texas has spent years trying to shut them down in court, arguing that federal law does not permit the tribes to offer gaming on their lands.

Despite the strong electoral support he routinely receives in East Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has continued to voice opposition to H.R. 2208. Last year, his resistance helped kill similar legislation when it passed the House but failed to move forward in the Senate. But the Governor’s opposition is short-sighted.

Take Naskila Gaming on the Alabama-Coushatta reservation. With 700 jobs directly or indirectly connected to it, Naskila is the second-largest employer in Polk County and has an estimated economic benefit to our region of $170 million per year. Families throughout East Texas count on Naskila for their livelihood, and Naskila honors that obligation: Even when it was closed for months during the pandemic, Naskila paid its employees their full wages and benefits. The loss of these jobs, in other words, would reverberate across Texas.

This is especially true in East Texas. In Polk County, the unemployment rate in March was 9.5 percent. At the same time, the unemployment rate was 8 percent in Harris County (Houston), 7.3 percent in Dallas County and 5.2 percent in Travis County, home of Austin.

East Texas needs jobs. We also need elected leaders who understand the value of those jobs. This is not about keeping electronic bingo out of Texas. Another federally recognized tribe in the state, the Kickapoo Tribe along the Texas-Mexico border, offers electronic bingo because it is recognized under a different federal law.

You cannot claim to support economic growth if you continue to imperil the jobs that already exist. It is time for Governor Abbott to recognize his obligation to the hardworking families living and working in a region that has so faithfully supported him at the ballot box.

June 28, 2021