This week on the Texas Outlaw Writers' Podcast, Josh Houston of Texas Impact joins us for a look-see into the current influence that religion has over Texas's political landscape. Will white, male evangelicals continue to rule over Texas? Do they now? The numbers are surprising. Josh is quick to point out that not every Texan of faith is a right-wing Christian nationalist.
His group, Texas Impact, exists to put faith into action. They "equip faith leaders and their congregations with the information, opportunities, and outreach tools to educate their communities and engage with lawmakers on pressing public policy issues. They are an interfaith group that works together on issues that impact the most vulnerable people in our communities. They help people live out their faith in the public square, moving the faith community from charity to justice. Texas Impact was established in 1973, in the wake of a major corruption scandal that shook Texas state government to its core."
Josh has quite an impressive CV:
Josh is an attorney and registered lobbyist responsible for legislative strategy; legal and policy research; direct lobbying; media relations; and grassroots strategy. Before coming to Texas Impact in 2010, Josh has worked on staff in the Texas House of Representatives, and holds a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Texas School of Law, a Master of Theological Studies from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Texas A&M University.
You can listen to the podcast here, or wherever fine podcasts are served. (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pandora, etc. etc.) Subscribe and don't miss a single episode. We often post Bonus episodes of our authors reading some of their Texas Outlaw articles.
For more information on Texas Impact (or if you or your faith group would like to get involved,) visit their site.
Texas Impact has an incredibly good voter resource page, "TexasFaithVotes" that you need to check out. Sample ballots are available, voter guides, and lots of opportunities to volunteer as poll watchers in the upcoming election.
A rough transcript of this podcast is available below.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a VERY rough (AI-generated) transcript of the show. If something is misspelled or a name is garbled... give the show a listen just to verify.
Chris: welcome to Texas Outlaw Writer's Podcast. Uh, today we're very excited to bring, Joshua Houston. Josh, as an attorney and registered lobbyist responsible for, legislative strategy, uh, legal and policy research, direct lobbying, uh, media relations and grassroot strategy for Texas impact before coming to Texas Impact in 2010, Josh worked in the staff of the Texas House of Representatives and holds a doctor of jurisprudence from the University of Texas School of Law, a Masters of Theological Studies from the Candler School of Theology at Emory, and a Bachelor of Arts History from Texas a and m.
There's a combo for you guys. Uh, he enjoys stand up, Stand up paddle. So I guess that's comedy, surfing, and, uh, exploring Austin's green belts if there are any left. Welcome, Josh. Glad to have you here.
Josh Houston: you so much. Pleasure to be here.
Chris: last week I kind of started it off, uh, just talking to our group. we just shot the round about, uh, does Beto have a chance?
And so I guess we could start with you. What, what do you think about the other races in Texas? You deal with the legislature and candidates from all over the state. What do, uh, the blue candidates and red candidates, what are they gonna see this, this, uh, election?
Josh Houston: Uh, well
Chris: I know that's
Josh Houston: have a, chance, right? Yeah. That there's a, there's a difference between possibility and probabilities, right? I mean, that's a giant gulf, uh, between those two things. And, you know, we're not in the prognosticating business, uh, here, but what we can say is that elections have real consequences.
And we've seen this play out over a decade in, in, in Texas. Uh, and a thing that no candidate running for office can or will ever tell you is that close races matter. . Uh, and if you don't believe that, you can look at the 2018 race, uh, for some really good empirical data that elections send an empirical signal to elected officials, a about what direction the voters want, the, the state or the district or whatever it is to go in.
Uh, and so if you look at a 2018 data, you know, we, there was a certain, uh, there was a very clear line, uh, up and down the ballot, uh, between people who voted for BET O'Rourke over Senator Cruz, and then they voted for Governor Abbott and then they looked at the Lieutenant Governor's race and voted for Mike Collier.
And then they, uh, looked at the comptrollers what race, and went back over for Glenn Hager. And that number's roughly seven. Where there were 7%, uh, that crossed over in, in, in that way. And, and you didn't just see that at the top of the ticket. You saw it, uh, down ballot in some of the house races where there's at least 7% of Texans, uh, who can certainly tell the difference between a traditional Republican and an extreme Republican and will vote for a traditional Republican, but then cross over and vote for a Democrat when it's an extreme Republican on the ticket.
And so does that happen again? We will have to see. But what effect it had was it, it really meant the 2019 session. Uh, which if you kind of look at your history a little bit, the 2017 session was the bathroom bill session. Uh, the 2019 session was a very kind of meat and potatoes. Let's increase school funding and not do anything too controversial session.
Uh, and then 2021 was just a floodgate. Uh, and all of that was based on electoral outcomes and expectations of, of, of what people thought was gonna happen in, in the, those elections and what empirical data voters sent to those elected officials.
Jim Moore: What does floodgate mean? Josh, you're talking about a a a a A dam falling down in a flood of conservative legislation coming out, I assume.
Josh Houston: Uh, 2021 was very different. I mean, I've been doing this for about 20 years and, you know, from 2005 to, I guess I should back up and say, I wanna really make sure we, that the listener understands who the membership of Texas Impact is. Uh, our membership is, uh, mainland Protestant. Jewish and Muslim. Uh, the denominations, uh, they appoint to us, our board, uh, our, so our board, we don't, we don't pick it.
It's sent to us by those member denominations. And then the board controls our legislative agenda and all the way any, if you look at the membership of Texas impact and how their voting patterns are, uh, at least in the spring of 2016, when we ran it last, it was, uh, 50% voted in the Democratic primary.
42% in the Republican primary and 8%, uh, have a mixed primary status. Uh, so the reason I go into that, that level of granular detail is to say we have a history of being able to work very well with both parties because we have membership in both parties and they vote in the primaries of both parties.
But it has been changing, uh, over the course of my short, uh, relatively short career. Uh, from 2005 to 2013, we were able to pass incremental small but good legislation. With a coalition of Democrats and traditional Republicans, and then after the 2014 election cycle, it, it, it just was not possible to pass small but good incremental legislation.
Uh, but it was possible to stop bad legislation, uh, from about 2014 till 2020. And then 2021 was just very different. And it was very different for a number of reasons. Uh, there was the national zeitgeist, obviously, uh, also there was the specter of every districting hanging over their heads. So a lot of the, uh, more traditional Republicans, uh, were afraid of having their districts drawn out from under them.
And they had to get those maps through, you know, uh, the other chamber and, uh, and, uh, the governor's office. Uh, and then the third thing was just the construction of the committees in the house, uh, was remarkably different. Uh, then in previous sessions where you, this is a very archae thing, but it's a super important thing where, where the way, uh, the speaker appoints those committees can, can predetermine whether certain legislations gonna pass or fail.
And when the, the committee assignments were released, which is usually around late February, uh, in a legislative session, a lot of the lobby looked at it and said, Man, there are just no procedural firewalls to bottle up bad legislation. And, and sure enough, you saw it from the moment they passed constitutional carry until deep into the special session when they were, uh, passing all sorts of things that had been previously stopped in the regular session.
Chris: we've mentioned Texas Impact and you talked about your board structure. Uh, give us an overall, wider overview of what you do of, of Texas impact as a group, a little tiny, tiny bit of their history and, and, uh, what your mission is.
Josh Houston: Yeah, so we were created, uh, out of the Texas Conference of Churches in 1973, and we were created as an arm of the Texas Conference of Churches to be their public policy arm. Uh, and of course, 1973 was a kind of monumental year, uh, in any number of policy areas. It was the year of Watergate, uh, in Texas. It was the year of the Sharpstown scandal.
And so the denominations that that really make up, uh, the Board of Texas Impact, uh, had got together and said, We've got to have religious presence. Uh, Talking to the state legislature at a state level in Texas. And so they formed us in 1973. Uh, we, uh, uh, were part of that larger conference of churches that no longer exist, but our structure is still the same.
And so, uh, who we are, we, uh, our board tells us what their public policy position, what our public policy positions are gonna be. Staff just lobbies what they tell us to, to work on. And that board is appointed to us by those denominations. And so, uh, it really is a council, uh, reflective of the different denominations present in Texas.
And if you add up, uh, the Texans that belong to one of those member denominations, you're looking at about four and half million Texans.
Chris: But how have you avoided the, uh, extreme right takeover of the church? Just like they've taken over a lot of the politics? How
Josh Houston: Yeah, that's a, that's a great question. So I mean, it, you know, if you go back into the history of, you know, the rise of Phyllis Schlafly and, and, and the, you know, the cultural war issues of the seventies that led to the religious right of the 1980s, that's largely been white evangelical Protestants. It did divide our denominations for a number of years, but most of that is, is kind of ancient history.
If you look at the data, uh, of, of, of religion in Texas, uh, I think a lot of the, well, a lot of the perception of mainline Protestant decline is based on, uh, data from the two thousands. If you look at data from the teens, we've stabilized and been at 12% of the state pretty much throughout the 2000 tens.
Uh, so for the most part, all of our denominations have been through whatever divorces or schisms, if you will. Uh, already, there's only one that remains to schism and that will probably be finalized here in the next year or two. Uh, so. That's right. Uh, and so the decline, uh, is really not on our side anymore.
And if you look at data and we rely heavily on the Public Religion Research Institute, they do great, great work. If you don't know about them already. The decline is on the white evangelical Protestant side, um, where they have gone over the course of the last decade of the teens, uh, from being 23% of the state to 15% of the state. Uh, and so if they, they are only 15% of the state. Uh, and then if you look at our membership, uh, so not just white mainline Protestant, but but also Jewish, Muslim and Unitarian, we are also 15% of the state. And then when you begin to make big tent coalitions with, uh, the African American Protestants, that's 8% of the state.
Uh, you make, you can make common cause with one half of the Catholic church, at least the people in the pew, not the hierarchy, but the people in the pew, uh, on literally any given issue, including bodily autonomy. Uh, so they're 29% of the state take one half of 'em, it's 14%. Uh, and then if you can make common cause with those who are unaffiliated or sometimes they're called the nuns or those that said, don't go to church, they are roughly 19% of the state and on policy issues that are very much aligned with us.
You start adding up all those different constituencies and you're looking at 56% of Texans so
Deece Eckstein: I'm sorry, Josh, you said the nuns as opposed to the nun.
Josh Houston: That's right. That's correct. Those,
Deece Eckstein: sticking with the old hierarchy, pretty
Josh Houston: uh, yeah. Well, I
Deece Eckstein: there's some crazy nuns out there.
Josh Houston: the nun, the nuns with a u uh, as opposed to the nones with an O. Uh, the nuns with a U are quite interesting. I mean, there are some that stick with the hierarchy, and then there are some who are very much, uh, like women of other denominations where I, I mean, women lead the way in church, uh, in form, formally in some cases, and informally in other cases.
But if it wasn't for women, there probably wouldn't be religious communities.
Deece Eckstein: uh, congregation of Divine Providence, the CDP sisters out of, uh, Castroville are the ones who started, uh, what was the Center for Public Policy Priorities is now better Texas.
Josh Houston: That's
Deece Eckstein: I mean, they provided the original, original funding for that. So the, the nuns sometimes you're right, are sometimes on the very progressive side.
Sometimes, uh, on the, on the more traditional side.
Josh Houston: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. So I, I, I think religion in Texas is just far more diverse than, than people, uh, kind of intuitively think, Uh, often people think it's a white evangelical Protestant state, and that is, um, kind of out of date, frankly. Uh, the, the data just shows that we are very much reflective of the national, uh, religious landscape, and it has been increasingly diversifying, uh, over 40 years.
Roger Gray: in the national religious landscape, though, you're also looking at the latest Pew Poll, uh, religious affiliation, Christian religious affiliation, way down.
Just, just since the two thousands.
Josh Houston: that is true. Uh, everywhere is, is religious affiliation in general is, is is in decline, uh, generally. Uh, but that does not mean that there is not still quite, uh, an influential, uh, religious community from a, a myriad of perspectives. Uh, and of course we are big defenders of religious freedom, the real kind that James Madison intended at Texas Impact.
And we, you know, let a person worship one, one God, three Gods 20 gods, or no Gods let it be no business of government.
Jim Moore: What do you think accounts for that decline, Josh? Is it because, Christian Evangelicals the right, the so-called crystal fascists are trying to force their version of religion into the, into the federal government. Is it because, is it because people are more pragmatic and less spiritual these days and they're dealing with, uh, the reality of their lives and they don't have time to reflect?
I mean, I, maybe it's all of those, but I, my on, from a personal standpoint, I view the, the idea that the government is supposed to promote a religion in particular is the most disturbing thing I've heard in the past 25 years.
Josh Houston: Yeah, we would say all the above. Um, but certainly when you look at data, uh, what the younger generations tell you as to why they're checking out is, is because of, uh, because of the far uh, well, we're one particular very loud faith group. Uh, the white evangelical Protestants, uh, and not even all of them, but a, a very substantial subset of them have really fallen into, into this Christian nationalism, uh, where they're trying to impose their few, their theology on, on others.
Uh, that is certainly what is reported in, in the data. Um,
Chris: Just the conflict. Who wants to join up when
there's just nothing but conflict.
Josh Houston: Uh uh. Yeah, absolutely could. The conflict can really just drive people out the door.
Chris: I'm curious about, uh, within the religious community that you represent, has Dobbs drawn people, have they become more active? Have they become activists? Are you getting that feedback?
Josh Houston: Yeah, I'm happy to talk about that because we, for the very first time in 50 years, took a position on, on, uh, reproductive autonomy. Um, I mean, and so I'm not if Kansas is interesting data, but it's, you know, it's not anything secret, secret or inside. Y'all have seen it, like I've seen it Alaska as interesting data.
We don't have any secret polling, but, but. With our membership, uh, it has been quite interesting. For 50 years, our board said, Just, just stay away from it. It's gonna divide us. It's too controversial. And it was one of the things where we just never touched the issue. Uh, we, if somebody asked me, you know, we were like, Switzerland, we, we, we really aren't taking aside on that.
And, you know, this summer, uh, and if y'all wanna read the, the, the briefing paper that we wrote, the staff wrote for the board, uh, we have that on our website. Uh, we made it public cuz why not? Uh, we wrote a briefing paper to our board to say, we think, I mean, we wrote it right before the opposite session came out and said, We think this is gonna be a giant thing and we think that you can no longer stay on the sidelines.
You should take a position. And we weren't really sure how they would handle it because again, they are, uh, a, a council, uh, that represents the, the denominations. And, you know, I'll tell you, it was just like the bathroom bill in 2017, um, when we had yet to take a position on it. And then, Where we thought this might cost some blow back.
Uh, and it didn't. Uh, it really didn't. And, and so that's one of the things I know, Uh, there's kind of a big, you know, anti-institutional bias that a lot of folks have these days and for good reason. Uh, but there's something super powerful about when it's not just a handful of people who go to church, but the institutions themselves come out and say, We're no longer afraid of this.
We have to have a conversation about it. And, you know, uh, we would want to kind of point out the power of that. I mean, and on the bathroom bill, it really got overshadowed. And yet we thought that should have been a much bigger story to come out of it, which was we had bishops and presbyters and heads of denominations on the south steps of the Capitol saying, you know, we're against the bathroom bill.
And boy, we couldn't get any press. I mean, you know, the thing that divided us for 40 years and now we're outta the woods on it, you know, was just not deemed newsworthy. Maybe because we were talking about love by neighbor and not, you know, uh, what the other side said, which literally, and I quote, Demonn, possession and spiritual warfare probably get better cliques, Um, I guess, but,
Jim Moore: They do.
Josh Houston: Yeah.
Deece Eckstein: get better. Click
Josh Houston: and so I, I think that's one of the big messages is if you were a person of faith and did not know you had a lobbyist before today in Texas. Well, it's a pleasure to meet you. And also, uh, our message to you would be believe, I mean, one of my favorite shows is Ted Lasso when he puts, if you've watched a fan of the show, puts this big sign that says, Believe over the door.
Uh, you know, you are not a minority in a Bible belt state anymore. Uh, you, if you form the right coalitions with other faith groups that have of like mind, uh, could very well change the policies and politics of the state. You're just largely unorganized because, you know, two outta three Texans have either been born or moved here in my lifetime.
Deece Eckstein: Uh, Josh, let me just ask as a, a kind of procedural thing, are you guys organized as a 5 0 1 C three or 5 0 1 c four?
Josh Houston: Both.
Deece Eckstein: Okay.
Josh Houston: Yeah. We have two boards, um, of C3 board and a C four.
Chris: What does that mean?
Josh Houston: Ah, so that is a legal thing that has to do with the irs. A 5 0 1 C three, uh, is your standard, is what most people think about when they think of a nonprofit organization. Uh, they, uh, well, that's your more standard, uh, thing. We have a 5 0 1 C four.
And so, uh, like I said, I've mentioned that we were originally formed of the Texas Conference of Churches. That was the 5 0 1 C three Texas Impact was the 5 0 1 C four. And back in the 1970s when these things were more tightly regulated, uh, you had a C4 in order to lobby. Of course, since then, you've had the Citizens United opinion and, and 5 0 1 C four s have become, uh, much more prominent for dark money.
Uh, obviously we don't even endorse much less dark money, but, uh, but that's how they're being currently used. But, but back in the day when we were formed, it was, it was primarily for lobbying purpose.
Chris: Do you get a lot of, uh, uh, criticism? Uh, I mean, you know, you, you see a lot of people on the left and even, even moderates are very angry about, um, the right, um, politicing from the pulpit. You know, you had Ed Young here in Houston, uh, demonizing Democrats, um, from the pulpit, got a lot of press and people were outraged.
You know, the IRS ought shut 'em down, blah, blah, blah. And you guys are a lobby group, four churches. How does, how, how do you deal through that?
Josh Houston: Yeah, it's funny how quick somebody becomes a church state separation when they don't exactly agree with the position of their denomination. Uh, but , but in all seriousness, I mean, it does come up, uh, occasionally, uh, less so than when I first took this job about 12 years ago, um, believe it or not. But yeah, they confuse what the 5 0 1 c three rules are, uh, which is you can't electioneer.
And what is electioneering? Well, it's anything that benefits or hinders a candidate for an office. When it comes to issues, we can talk about issues all we want. Um, that is completely separate from anything in the, in the IRS rules. And so that's where, you know, I think people don't often understand the distinctions and it's, it's hard.
I understand why they don't, why they don't. Uh, in the nonprofit world, there are issue organizations, there are partisan organizations, and then there are partisan organizations that masquerade as issue organizations, which is what makes it really hard for people, people to tell. Uh, we are unapologetically and only an issue organization.
We really do not care what party is in office. Uh, we only care if the policies that are on our legislative agenda set by our board are being advanced, uh, which is a subtle but very important, important distinction. And so, you know, where we would criticize their religious right is they've. Either allowed themselves or actively tried to capture, depending on your point of view, uh, one political party and totally aligned themselves with, with one political party.
We think that that is a strategic blunder though, and, and, and that the diversity, uh, of our membership is I think a lot of times viewed as a, a, a challenge or a reason to avoid advocacy. And what we would encourage people to think about differently is that it's actually a strength. Because if you look at American history, whether you're the Robert Barron, Jay Gould, who said, I am a Republican and Republican district, a democratic and democratic district, but I'm always for the Eerie Railroad, or whether you're a, uh, issue organization where, where we think you're actually more powerful because, uh, money only prevails when voters aren't paying attention.
Uh, you know, the most powerful group you've probably never heard of was called the Anti Saloon League. They were part of the prohibition movement. And you know, they did not care whether you were a Republican or a Democrat. They only cared if you were wet or dry.
Jim Moore: Well, but, but you raised for me, you raised an important, an important question because I'm not, uh, I am not sure that I am comfortable with churches, uh, or any religious organization, uh, electioneering for issues. Um, and, and, and standing at the pulp, and I'll never forget traveling on the Bush campaign in oh four, um, the reelection campaign, you'll recall they were pushing the anti game marriage amendment and, um, I was.
Uh, the only white face in a black church in Columbus, Ohio, the, uh, the Sunday before the election. And the pastor was up there, and I mean, it was, his language was coded. He was being very circumspect about what he said, but in the end, he couldn't help himself. And, and his, his closing line to the entire congregation was said, Just remember when you go into that voting, voting booth on Tuesday, don't you dare vote against God?
And of course, uh, that amendment in, in Ohio really helped Bush. I mean, I don't think I, I don't think he won Ohio, but that made it close and they were able to find other ways to make it win. But, but I, I just don't understand how, um, ish churches can promote issues and raise money to facilitate things like the anti-abortion movement without violating IRS rules.
It seems, it seems patently illegal to me.
Roger Gray: And I interject something. Because I, I, I wrote about this like two pieces ago for, for the Outlaws. Uh, it strikes me if, if you say that, if, if we say stay away from hot button issues all together, uh, where does that leave the black church? Back in the civil rights days?
I mean, it was, it was the main, one of the main drivers.
It was, it was the family. It was the, the, the town square
of the black community when it came to, uh, energizing the civil rights movement.
I don't moral issues.
Chris: and Martin Luther King, I think said exactly what Joss saying. I, I don't talk about candidates, I talk about my issues and whoever wants to come to my issues, comes to my issues.
Jim Moore: then should you be able to remain under our constitution, and I'm not averse to it, but should you be able to remain? Tax free. If you're raising millions of dollars to promote anti-abortion, should you not pay taxes on those monies because you are no longer strictly a religious organization as defined under the Constitution.
Chris: you say you
believe for freedom of the black people, you know.
Deece Eckstein: what if you were raising millions of dollars for abortion, for abortion initiatives, or for a constitutional amendment?
Jim Moore: the same thing.
Deece Eckstein: of what your opinion is of the specific issue? Or is this a function of what you think the separation of church and
Jim Moore: No, it has decent, has nothing to do with my opinion at this point. I, I just think, I personally think it's wrong. I don't, I don't think that churches or any religious group should be able to do that without taxation.
Jim Moore: Okay.
Josh Houston: Well, yeah, so there's the constitutional issues and then there's the statutory issues, uh, there, the constitutional issues. Uh, if this were to get to the Supreme Court, in fact, there have been people trying to get this to the Supreme Court for a long time. In fact, we are unaware. Of the IRS having actually enforced the IRS code on a church since January 20th, 2009.
So it has not been enforced. Uh, we think largely out of the fear, uh, that if it got to the Supreme Court that the whole IRS code might fall.
Roger Gray: I ask, what, what provoked the IRS to, to do that in oh nine?
Josh Houston: Well, January 20th, January 20th, 2009 was when President Bush left office in Barack Obama entered office. That was inauguration day. And so largely it was probably a political, uh, decision not to take on, uh, the pulpit Freedom Sunday. Folks that actively do defy the IRS code and election year from the pulpit because there are, uh, impact advocacy groups looking to redefine....
The meaning of religious freedom in America and, and actively been looking to take this case to the, under the First Amendment to the Supreme Court. And as we've seen, uh, the court has only gotten much more friendly to them since 2009. Uh, so there's a real danger to, to taking a case like this to the Supreme Court.
Deece Eckstein: Back, back to the question I asked you, Jim. I'm j I'm just, I would make a distinction between electioneering or advocacy for particular candidates, which we know goes on in churches all over the country and issue advocacy. Sometimes thinly veiled as, or, or, or it, which sometimes thinly veils, Oh, you need to vote for candidate day or candidate B, but, um, You know, the, if, like, if the churches are advocating against the death penalty, uh, as long as they're not, I think as long as they're not, uh, advocating for specific candidates or whatever, I think that they're fulfilling a appropriate role in the public square.
Chris: Certainly within their faith beliefs.
Josh Houston: cuz if you say we can't talk about issues that we find to be moral issues, that does indeed turn into a First Amendment under the free speech and free
Jim Moore: I'm not, I don't suggest, I'm not suggesting that at all. All I'm, all I'm suggesting is, is when the right wing evangelicals as an example, they could be left wing, go out and raise tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars on a particular issue. Then there should be taxation involved in that.
That's all I'm saying.
Deece Eckstein: and and to elaborate on a point Josh was making, not only is it kind of a first Amendment. American problem, but it's also a religious problem because one of the, one of the reasons why, for instance, the evangelicals are such a cancer in American society now is because they have completely detached what they believe to be their personal faith and personal faith behavior from public consequences or from, from the public sphere.
And so they can be, you know, nice, kind general people go on mission trips three times a year, but they vote for candidates who, uh, are, are, you know, taking, uh, chip money from kids and stuff like that. So I think there's a role for, for faith to articulate a vision of our secular civil world in which we try to, uh, make that world better as a consequence of our faith or as an expression of our faith.
Roger Gray: Well, Josh, can, can I ask, I love that point. Can I ask addressing what Jim Port brought up? if, if. A pastor, if a rector, if a, if a rabbi, if they take their issue, advocacy or issue opposition beyond the pulpit
and as Jim said, start raising money. How does that sit in within the tax code? I mean, it is one thing to say, I oppose abortion from the pulpit.
It's a legitimate, uh, uh, personal and, and, and moral issue for a lot of faith, a lot of, a lot of denominations. But if you go beyond that, as Jim said, and you start raising money, how, how does the IRS regard that?
Josh Houston: I'd have to have a specific example. Um, and I'd have to think about it a little bit in the sense of are they trying to lobby with that money or, or are they, or
Roger Gray: or whatever?
Josh Houston: Yeah, cuz there's legal definitions of lobbying and, and things of that nature. I know on the bathroom bill, we, uh, did spend money to buy ads to try to defeat that bill and it was perfectly legal.
Uh, we had to report it to the ethics commission and disclose. Uh, which we did. Uh, but it has a state level, uh, regulation, uh, time, place and manner on how we, uh, engage in, in, in lobbying. Uh, and we put, you know, paid for by our treasurer or whatever it was on the ad to comply with the law. Uh, so there were laws, uh, about disclosing that.
Um, but there were not any necessarily, it did not affect us. Uh, uh, I mean we, uh, in a sense of being taxed. No, it didn't affect us
Jim Moore: I, I wonder if there's a distinction in the tax code between associations or groups, uh, as, as compared to, you know, religious associations as compared to churches or, you know, individual,
Josh Houston: yeah, there is. And that's the five, Oh yeah. 5 0 1 C three. 5 0 1 C four. Your trade associations are often 5 0 1 C six, um, I can't remember. There's quite a few designations and rules that they can and can't do. And that is why when we ran those ads, it was under our 5 0 1 C four and not our 5 0 1 C three for instance.
Jim Moore: Got it.
Deece Eckstein: so Josh, you suggested, um, when you were sort of run through the demographics that the constituency you try to represent actually is, um, a very significant constituency, if not the largest constituency within the Christian, within the broad, non-Catholic, Christian, uh, orbit in, in Texas. Uh, and do you find that when you, do you find that legislators and people you meet with, Understand that?
Do they get that about who y'all
Josh Houston: Sometimes, but Mo I'd say mostly no. Um, I don't think most people of faith understand that about themselves either. I mean, I mean, until I had this job professionally, I never looked at the demographics of religion in Texas. One of the reasons for that is that, you know, whether you're breaking it up just white mainland Protestants or including the interfaith community, or including the black, black church, depending on what your coalition size, uh, what you're looking at, um, the question is, is have they demonstrated themselves, as a constituency that shows up at the poles. And white evangelical Protestants have, They've also, uh, had, you know, uh, the luxury of 40 years of reporting about them. Uh, they've had, um, 40 years of organizing, um, you know, uh, that they've been able to build upon. Uh, people know they exist because they show up in, in primaries. Uh, one party is in, in particular, uh, our constituency is not quite as homogenous politically or, or religiously.
Uh, and so, uh, they are there, they're pervasive, but it does not appear to be an organized block of voters that can change, uh, the outcome of an office with the same kind of force. Uh, although, uh, you know, I think they do absolutely know, like there are people in my district to go to these churches. So if that subtle distinction answers your question, like, do they know that we have people in their district that go to these churches?
Yes. Do they have the same weight and force and organization of the religious right? No.
Chris: Well, and you're also suggesting they're the ones that show up at the polls, and even though you've got the numbers, they don't show up at the poll.
Deece Eckstein: actually I think he was suggesting something else, which is they show up at the polls, but they don't make a big fuss about it, or they don't, it, it's not, uh, they're not viewed as a, uh, cohesive block that shows up at the polls.
Josh Houston: They are a quiet people that go about their business and they tend to have been for, uh, you know, I mean you look at the demographics of them. For instance, if 50% vote in the Democratic primary, 42% in the Republican and 8% have a mixed primary status. You know, there are certainly local congregations within larger denominational structures with different political leanings.
But by and large, what it means is, is that you have these people sitting together in the same pew tithing to the same institution, and so they are able to coexist. And in our polarized, you know, world, what institutions are there where you have Republicans and Democrats sitting together, sitting together in the same room.
Uh, now another data point about them is that they are able to sit together in the same room. So that tells you a little something about what kind of Republican and what kind of Democrat they are, uh, where, you know, you're, they're much more inclined to be traditional Republican, uh, or a, a more, uh, kind of traditional Democrat than on either of the extremes.
And of course, if they're not on the extremes, they're probably not making a lot of noise. Uh, to DE's point about, they quietly go about the business of, of democracy, uh, and they are not necessarily, uh, loud and in your face and trying to impose their religion on others.
Chris: On the other hand, you've talked about they have the numbers, they're there, they're quiet about it. Well, the extremes have been winning for 15 years. It's hard to argue who win.
Josh Houston: Yes. And that shows up in the data as to how many people, how many voting, age Texans bothered to vote in a primary. Um, and it is a very low number of super dedicated partisans. And so, uh, we have been for 10 years, and we'll continue to do so, Talk about the importance of voting in primaries. Uh, because in a state like Texas, 95% of the Texas legislature is effectively elected in their party.
Primary, Yeah. At both parties.
Jim Moore: I I can, I can, I, I don't think I can offer much hope in that day. Deece and I. I have seen primaries through the a zillion elections, and it's always the activists who votes in primaries. They, they just are the only people who are energized and go out and cast a ballot. And I, and I don't know how that message gets through, Josh.
I think it's an important message that, that the average voter gets to the primary and helps select the best candidate. But I mean, look, if, if you look. The Ted Cruz example. Ted Cruz ran against, uh, uh, Dewhurst in a, in a primary and got him into a runoff. And then the runoff was held in July in Texas. And that had, you know, the weather, the heat, the interest people on vacation.
It had such a downward pressure on turnout that, that hardly anybody voted for that guy and he got a Senate job and then he is incumbent, It's hard to beat an incumbent in the US Senate. So I agree with you. I don't know if it ever happens in our system. I really don't.
Josh Houston: Well, so two, yeah, you're absolutely right. And then the Lieutenant Governor Patrick's race, the very next term, uh, very thick cycle in 2014 was exactly the same. There are roughly 600,000 Texans, uh, in a state of 30 million. That are driving the policy outcomes we see because they reliably show up in a primary, in a primary runoff, which are super low turnout.
It is 600,000 Texans, uh, that are, uh, leading to the policy outcomes that we see. Uh, the ray of sunshine, if there is one, is that it was a turnout in the primaries were about 10% at the beginning of the 2000 tens. Uh, so that 12 election, that 14 election in 16 and 18 and in 20 turnout was marginally up.
Um, we're looking at about 13%. So it's getting better. Is it getting better fast enough? No. But is it getting better? Uh, is the trend line trending in the right direction? Yeah. And people change their behavior really slowly, so, Uh, you know, you can look at that as a glass half full or a glass half empty.
Um, uh, I, to do my job, I have to see the glass half full
Jim Moore: Yeah,
Chris: Believe, believe
Jim Moore: Believe Chris Newland
Deece Eckstein: Yeah,
Deece Eckstein: I'm sorry. Go ahead, Chris
Chris: Uh, well, I, I was just gonna get a little, go down a little sidetrack here. Um, you're a theologian yourself. You spent a lot of time and, uh, Candler, um, and you are walking every day into the legislature. You're seeing the sausage being made. Uh, you have other theologians that disagree with you vehemently.
How does that affect you, ? How does that affect you as a person or your faith? Uh, I mean, you've stepped in it,
Josh Houston: Yeah. I, I, I have a religion degree and, uh, I work in politics. The two things you should never talk about at Thanksgiving, and I went to a and m and I went to, U.T, ut so I'm a Longhorn and Aggie, so I mean, maybe I have a predisposition to it. Uh, my wife.
Jim Moore: need professional help, Josh
Josh Houston: Yeah. Yeah. Uh, I, I, I remember
in, in, in sim
Roger Gray: We can do an intervention right here. You.
Josh Houston: yeah, in seminary, I was kind of the hard ass, but in, uh, in, in, uh, law school, I was the bleeding heart.
So, I don't know, maybe I have the right balance of the two. I'm not sure. It, it is getting more challenging. Uh, and I think that the 2021 session, you know, I've always, you know, you get mad at the end of a legislative session, then 18 months pass before the next one, and you get over it and you're ready for the next one.
This 2021 was so different.
Deece Eckstein: So tough.
Josh Houston: Be, Oh yeah. This is the first time to, I've really dreaded one, uh, beginning and that's new for me. Um, and I think that's largely because of the lack of listening. Uh, and so, you know, I mean, y'all are media, guys of the media background. Um, if a lobbyist is talking to the media, it's largely because things are messed up. And the value of talking to the public outweighs the risk of the relational damage you take on the inside, uh, from revealing what happens on the inside.
Jim Moore: Sure.
Josh Houston: Uh, so that tells you a little something about the climate in there where, uh, you know, we, we desperately need voters to, uh, understand what is happening, uh, because they are truly the only ones who can fix.
Jim Moore: I just thinking Josh, that Deece has a law degree in seminary training and politics and he may be the Your ghost of career future.
Chris: Oh, that's
Josh Houston: forgotten.
that. I had forgotten. I remember that now from years ago, and I had forgotten that. Yeah. Yeah. So we should talk in commiserate. There's actually, I, you know, now that you mentioned it,
there's, there's actually a weird number of us that have, uh, dual degrees sitting in that building. And I, I've run across, you know, probably half a dozen, uh, you know, uh, our board president, um, being, being one of 'em.
Uh, so, uh, yeah, no, it is, uh, it is a, to be a lobbyist, everyone I've ever met is a very unique personality, uh, and in a good way. Um, I'm, I'm not really sure how to explain that in a different way, but it does take kind of a unique personality to be able to do it 24 7.
Jim Moore: That was not my experience. Everyone I met was, yeah, marginally classified as a Peckerwood
Deece Eckstein: So, so Josh, you
you were talking
about, we, we talked a lot about sort of how, uh, Texas Impact works and all that. What are some of the key, uh, issues or that you all focus on as an organization?
Josh Houston: well, we've been for Medicaid expansion since there was the Affordable Care Act, and that has been a long saga in Texas. Uh, you know, I'll tell you, when I, when we first started doing this job, uh, when I first started doing this job anyway, we were able to work on a lot of more things that that dealt with poverty.
And it was more of an issue of taxes and spending, uh, as that was in their early, you know, teens. Uh, but increasingly it's more issues of identity, which is super frightening. Um, because what we're really dealing with is, do we actually believe in equal protection of laws? Uh, you know, when we're picking on L G B T folks or we're, uh, you know, where anything we don't like that makes us uncomfortable about race is suddenly called critical race theory or whatever it is.
Uh, you know, even, you know, the absolute lack of exceptions, uh, in the abortion ban, uh, I mean, we're really getting into issues of race, gender. I, I remember the anti Sharia law nonsense as if that was somehow gonna
Deece Eckstein: Oh, my God, that's now I
Josh Houston: loony. Gotta have just bad memories of that. I mean, we're picking on people's religion.
We're picking on people's, uh, race. We're picking on people's gender. Like it's, it's getting to be real visceral.
Jim Moore: But isn't it, I wanna, this you bring up a, to me, an intriguing point in that, isn't it religion that is saying to so many people being gay or lesbian or whatever is wrong. Many religions are saying that. And so then you are put in a position of defending how a person is born and that puts you counterintuitively against the religion that, that you are supposed to represent in many ways.
Is that, That seems confusing as hell to me.
Josh Houston: Well, that goes to the diversity of religion in America. Um, uh, so yes, it has historically been, uh, those in the religious right who have really, uh, been against, uh, L G B T Q Equality. And over the course of the decade, uh, really longer, I should say, it goes back to the seventies, if you really wanna trace it, uh, to, you know, you look at the Episcopal Church and their AIDS advocacy in the 1980s, uh, it traces all the way back to that where there has been, as the nation has, has grown.
And changed. Uh, we have reexamined our theologies and, and have, uh, you know, there's a lot of queer theology out there right now that's super interesting and, and and being looked at in a very different way as we go back and look at sacred scriptures and say, Well, you know, I mean the clothes we inter made from mixed fibers too.
And, and I eat lobster, and that's an abomination to the Lord as well. So, I mean, there are times that scripture is reevaluated. Uh, you know, sometimes we call it a reformation, but only history. And in hindsight, can you really know if that's what's going on?
Deece Eckstein: I think that's a really good insight, and I think one of the big challenges, kind of the meta challenges that we're facing is that there is this, Last ditch struggle against modernity, against progress, against diversity, against inclusivity. , and many, unfortunately, many of the churches are throwing those lines in the sand and saying, you know, we, we will not tolerate this.
We will not, uh, uh, uh, do this. And I think it's great that some of the ch that some other churches, some other religious voices are saying, you know, it pretty much boils down to love everybody. And, let's stick with that as a principle rather than getting into all these silly games over what I can eat on a Thursday or whatever.
Josh Houston: Yeah,
Jim Moore: everybody thing worked well with a crusade Deece
Deece Eckstein: I I'm not saying we got it right. I'm
Jim Moore: I know. I know,
Deece Eckstein: And, and I, and I guess I will say, and this is my naivite speak. If this is not something we can figure out in the United States, it cannot be figured out because we have at least a governmental constitutional structure that allow, that actually allows religious freedom and, and diversity in opinion.
And hopefully we can figure out how to, you know, have a, a cohesive society with all those changes. And if we can't figure it out here, I don't know how you figure it out in France or China or Australia or anywhere else.
Roger Gray: Have to say
these. Uh, I'm not sure. We, I'm not sure we have that cohesive society to be honest.
Deece Eckstein: Oh yeah, no,
Roger Gray: I mean, it, it, and it's getting less. So, John talking about people who are on the right, on the left sitting together and pews, uh, if you go, you might find that in Houston, you might find that in Dallas and Austin, so forth, but it's very hard to find in rural Texas.
I can attest to that. There's the token Episcopalian here. Uh, there, there's a little tiny Episcopal church here, uh, full of people even older than me,
Chris: Rogers in center,
Roger Gray: in center, Texas
Uh, and then there's Big Baptist Church where my wife's, uh, parents attended, which is the, her older parents is why we ended up here.
Um, and she has said, Why don't we go do the, I just, I know what I'm gonna hear. I know who I'm gonna meet and I know the discussions we're gonna get into, and I don't want to do that. And I'm a relatively liberal Episcopalian, so it, it's, it gets hard for those people to get together, you know, when you
know what's coming.
Chris: you know what's,
Roger Gray: When you know you're gonna get the Trump talk, you're gonna get the gauge. You're gonna get all the rest of that.
Jim Moore: Roger. I was Christened at Episcopalian church up here in Michigan. It's the last time I attended
Roger Gray: Well then it
Chris: I think it's time to go back. Jim
Roger Gray: It didn't didn't the water well enough.
Chris: Hey Josh, is there Is there anything that we should be aware of that you're seeing in the halls of the capital that, that most people aren't aware of in terms of your work and what's going on just some insight information, anything you're seeing that you, you wanna talk about?
Josh Houston: because it so depends on what happens in November. you know, I, I think the line is probably five points.
Jim Moore: Do you really? It's that much.
Josh Houston: No, I mean, no, not a progno. That's not a prediction about how the election will come out, is that if the election is closer than five, you'll probably see a moderated session that looks more like 2019. If the margin is greater than five, then I think you'll see a, a session that looked very much like 2021,
Chris: Are you seeing any polling that, that we haven't seen or
Josh Houston: seen now, we
Jim Moore: you have a, do you have any sense of it though, Josh? I mean, I, I, I, I spent 22 years in that building covering the legislature, and, and I never, ever could get a sense of where things were, were going prior to. And I've, and anybody who could, had, had greater vision than anybody ever knew, and I don't, I don't think even, you know, people like Anne Richards and George Bush and Mark White, really, they had dreams and ideas, but whether they could be effectuated or not, I think escaped them.
And is, is that, is that what we're looking at again?
Josh Houston: Probably, I mean, I'm not sure anybody can really foresee what, what is coming. Um, it, it really, it really is hard. I mean, we make a legislative agenda. As broad as possible to give staff as much flexibility as possible because there always is things that surprise us. I mean, I think we will probably see a big fight on school vouchers.
Uh, you see that when a man, whenever there's times of ethnic strife in America. The 19th century, it was immigration. The first voucher bills in Texas were in 1956, which was the first session after Brown versus board. Uh, you know, I think we'll probably see that again, uh, based on the signals coming outta the governor's office.
Uh, and we know where the Lieutenant Governor is out on vouchers, even though he has told his senators not to talk about vouchers, um, until the election's over. Um, but uh, we were, but then the question is, does the household, um, and there are probably enough rural Republicans to hold the line, um, but no one should take that for granted.
Chris: Do they get motivated on education, on private schools, private vouchers? Does that stir 'em up or do they even understand it? What's coming?
Josh Houston: Uh, you mean like the, like Voters or elected officials?
Chris: Voters, does that motivate them to, does that send off any alarms that, uh, they're gonna be, you know, that the voucher program is really killing public educat.
Josh Houston: I think it really depends on where you live. Um, I know rural Texas understands that that is a, especially if you are a teacher in rural Texas, that that is a great big, uh, entitlement program that takes money from rural schools to give them to wealthy, um,
suburban parents. Yeah. And, and you see this in the data.
Arizona just, uh, had, I saw, uh, data last week that, so like something around 75% of voucher recipients were already in the private school. So this whole narrative about it being some great civil rights thing that will rescue kids from failing urban schools is just, it's just rhetoric. Uh, because in reality what it is is suburban kids already in private schools who now say, Ooh, money for us.
And it just Pulls
Deece Eckstein: Josh? Uh, you did mention that
Deece Eckstein: you, you sort of made a distinction between if it was closer than five points, for instance, in the gubernatorial race, that might have some effect. And of course, even if
Deece Eckstein: for instance, Bero Rourke doesn't win, but it's within five points, that probably means a down ballot.
There were. uh, some Democrats, for instance, in in swing senatorial or, or house districts
who now survived Or
won the seat because Beto kind of pulled a bunch of voters their way.
Josh Houston: That is certainly what happened in 2018. The, the only difference in this generally, yes. Uh, the one, uh, caveat, uh, I would add is that this is the first election after, uh, redistricting. So those, those districts are never more predictable, uh, than right after redistricting. And then when that actually did happen in 2018, it was the end of redistricting cycle.
Uh, but it is possible there's a, there's 150 house districts, and roughly five to seven would be true swing districts. Um, the rest of them are generally pretty locked in, um, more than 10 points. Uh, so, uh, you know, I haven't, I can't remember the exact number for this cycle. I haven't looked at it, but it's in, at ballpark.
Um, so maybe, uh, but I mean, I think it, it is probably more of a statewide focus now that we're post redistricting, uh, than it was just a couple cycles ago. Um, uh, where they thought it might look more like 2008. But, um, but uh, I think it's probably, uh, focus is statewide here for the next, uh, couple cycles.
Chris: let's start to wrap it up. Hey Josh, I wanna give you an opportunity to, if you wanna pitch your group or tell us anything about your work that's coming up. Anything you wanna promote.
Josh Houston: Yeah, there's actually three things. Uh, if you go to Texas Impact Election Center, uh, again, uh, we said earlier that, you know, this doesn't get fixed unless voters fix it. Uh, and so we have tools for you to help you do that because, uh, we, we want to, to, we want you to do the work of democracy. Uh, so Texas Impact Election Center, if you Google that, it'll come up.
There are three things on there. The very first thing you'll see is our thing. It's called ballot ready. Uh, it is a one stop shop where you can check your registration status. And again, I don't know when this goes to air, but that deadline is coming up. Uh, pledge to vote. Uh, because even I, as a political professional need a reminder, uh, to, to my cell phone that, hey, early voting started, Oh yeah, I should go.
Uh, it'll help you do your down ballot research because it will take your address and put you in all your local races. And boy, there is just 1100 municipalities in Texas 1100 school boards, and it is impossible for any statewide group to, to help you with all of those. You kind of have to do your own research, and then finally it'll help you make a plan by getting you to your polling center, uh, depending on where you live.
The second big thing, and, and, and really it probably should have been first, I mean, this election really is democracy or autocracy. Which way is America gonna go? The number one need that the election administrators in Texas tell us that they need are election workers. Uh, they need people to work the polls.
And so, uh, we have a link on there. We're teaming up a power of the poles, and it is a link, uh, on that page, the Texas Impact Election Center, uh, that will connect you, uh, with your county. Uh, and then third, and finally, if you know, we understand not everybody can do a a 14 hour day, uh, being an election worker.
There's still things you can do to help the nonprofit community protect the election's called poll monitoring, where you are the eyes and the ears of the Election Protection Coalition. Uh, you stand a hundred feet outside the polling center. And you just be friendly. You say, Hey, how'd it go? And you know, most people will say, Great, and have a good day, you know, But occasionally, uh, you will have somebody report a story to you and then if, uh, you will have training and then if it, you know, you will then call the hotline where the lawyers are.
This is a thing that I do as a lawyer on election day. I, I work with the Election Production Coalition. Uh, we're on the hotline, we're in the command center, uh, where we are working to, to address issues that come up, uh, at a very hyper local level. But we can't do our work unless we have people, uh, at the polls being our eyes and ears.
Chris: This has been great, Josh. Thank any guys. Anything else?
Jim Moore: Oh, that's, that's all great stuff. I really appreciate that. And uh, gee, you just bring, you wait to the end of things to bring up versus democracy man,
Chris: bearing the lead as we
Jim Moore: we could rant on that forever.
Deece Eckstein: You could have gotten to that a little earlier.
Jim Moore: Yeah. Come on Josh.
Roger Gray: Kind of lobbyist are we talking to here?
Chris: again, Josh. We really enjoyed it. And, uh, thank you guys and we missed my ridge all of it today. She had a big travel today for work and, uh, so we'll see her next time. Uh, again, uh, thanks for joining Texas Outlaw Writers. , want to thank everybody for coming in. Be sure and check out our website, , Texas Outlaw Writers dot com.
, check out Texas Impact. You can find us on our website and also you can, uh, subscribe to this new podcast, through Apple, Stitcher, Pandora, all your, fine, uh, podcast providers. Thanks guys. We'll see you next week.
Josh Houston: Thanks.
It's been fun.