An opportunity came up this past week when Republican Senator Ted Cruz from Texas was interested in spending time with Texas wine and grape industry leaders. Plans quickly moved to create an event to be hosted at Becker Vineyards on Saturday, July 12, with participants from Texas wineries and vineyards.
Senator Cruz first toured Becker Vineyards and then participated in a 45 minute round table discussion with the attendees. Representatives from the Texas wine industry present were:
- Debbie Reynolds, Executive Director of Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association (TWGGA)
- Kyle Frazier, law expert for TWGGA
- Mark Hyman, Llano Estacado Winery
- Mike Batek, Hye Meadow Winery
- Cliff and Betty Bingham, Bingham Family Vineyards
- Bobby and Jennifer Cox, Bingham Family Vineyards
- Doug Lewis, Lewis Wines
- John Rivenburgh, Bending Branch Winery
- Jim Evans, Lost Oak Winery
- Dr. Richard Becker and Bunny Becker, Becker Vineyards
- Joe Becker, Becker Vineyards
- Bret Perrenoud, Becker Vineyards
- Jon Leahy, Becker Vineyards
- Nichole Bendele, Becker Vineyards
Cruz started the round table by saying, “My top priority in office is focused very directly on one thing and that is bringing back jobs and economic growth because that is the top priority of Texans all across our state. It doesn’t matter what part of the state you are in. You can be in East Texas, West Texas, the Panhandle, or the Valley. If you listen to Texans, their top priority is jobs and economic growth.”
He continued, “In the time I’ve been in the Senate, I have tried to really do two things. Number one, do what I said I would do. And number two, tell the truth. And you would think we should be able to expect that with 535 members of Congress. That should be the bare minimum and I guess it says something about Washington. But I think we need to get back to listening to the people we work for and get back to basic common sense. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Cruz then suggested to go around the table and have each person introduce themselves and share any issues they may have.
The first topic came up was legislation which restricts shipping wine within state and between states. Cruz stated he does have a connection to the wine industry because he served in the Bush administration in 2001 as the director of the Office of Policy Planning at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). His office held hearings with ten different industries on barriers to ecommerce and wrote a report on the interstate selling of wines and how it was hurting consumers. The Supreme Court made a decision to make it easier to sell across state lines and the decision referenced their report 12 different times. So Cruz is a big believer in small wineries wanting to compete should have the ability to do so without government getting in the way and restricting the marketplace.
Mike Batek then discussed how he currently has nine employees. He would like taxes to be simplified and flat so he has more money allowing him to hire more employees. Their tax bill is high which also requires him to have a bookkeeper and accountant. Cruz agreed and said that tax reform is very important. Cruz said, “Every year we spend roughly 500 billion dollars on tax compliance. That is roughly the budget of our entire military, entirely wasted on tax compliance. I agree with you we should move to a simple flat tax where everyone can fill out their taxes on a postcard, and that we should shut down the IRS. There’s no reason to have 120,000 employees in Washington targeting the U.S. citizens.”
Cliff Bingham first discussed how the Texas wine industry has a $2 billion economic impact which is off of 10,000 or less acres in the state. The cotton industry is proud they have 4 million acres of cotton in the High Plains and have a $5 billion dollar impact. Doing calculations shows that is an economic impact of about $1,000 per acre whereas the wine industry is between $200,000 and $400,000 economic impact per acre. Imagine the economic impact of the wine industry if the vineyard acreage was increased from 10,000 acres to 40,000 acres, and that still would not make much of a dent in the 4 million acres of cotton farming.
Bingham Family Vineyards only hires legal workers. If legal immigration was made better, they could then have workers abide by the same laws as the rest of the American public. John Rivenburgh agreed with the point and said they plan on planting 150-160 more estate acres in the next ten years. The biggest hurdle is skilled and unskilled labor which they can hire to do so.
Cruz replied, “Immigration is a topic on which I am both optimistic and pessimistic. I’m optimistic because there is a lot of bipartisan agreement on immigration outside of Washington. Outside of Washington, I think there is enormous bipartisan agreement that we have to get serious about securing the borders and about solving the problem of illegal immigration. You also have widespread bipartisan agreement outside of Washington that we need to improve and streamline legal immigration. I’m a son of a legal immigrant who came from Cuba with nothing 57 years ago and all of us, we share that together. We are all the children of those who risked everything for freedom. If Congress wanted to pass a common sense immigration bill, the way you would do that is to focus on areas of bipartisan agreement.
“The reason I am pessimistic is in my view, President Obama and the Senate Democrats do not in fact want to pass immigration. Their objective was to do exactly what has happened, which is to craft a bill that they could run through the Senate and they knew with absolute certainty it would crash and burn in the House because their objective I believe, is partisan politics. It’s a simple political goal rather than actually solving the problem.”
Cruz went on to explaining what he had tried to do and propose on legal immigration which had not succeeded.
Next Bobby Cox discussed how Texas can make world class wines and all they need is a clean shot at the market. He said everything goes back to the three tier system. His solution is to repeal the 16th, 17th, and 18th amendments at one time because they were simply before the 19th amendment which is when women got to vote. He explained, “We excluded the smartest part of our population on making three critical decisions. That way you reform the Senate, you get rid of the IRS, and you wipe out the three tier system. And you don’t even argue the merit to the case, you just say, ‘The girls didn’t get to vote.'”
That got a big laugh from the round table attendees. Cruz came back with his own little social anecdote which also got a laugh.
Doug Lewis explained how he has five employees and he only uses all Texas grapes. He said he has a great product and a great market, he just does not have enough product (wine). Lack of skilled labor is huge in addition to knowledge among the industry. As an example, he said Washington State shared their education among each other and has made a big impact there.
Jim Evans said his concern is also a lack of skilled labor to manage vineyards. When you have a good vineyard and a lot of grapes, you can get existing wineries to expand and new wineries to start. Doing that also provides more money to the state. It is just a win-win situation for everybody.
Mark Hyman described how Texas wineries are winning Double Gold medals and Best of Class at prestigious competitions and the wines are getting better every year. He wanted to express that jobs are coming with the growth.
Cruz concluded the round table by saying, “I view my job as fighting for you guys, fighting for small businesses, fighting for job creation, and fighting for economic growth.”