AUSTIN, Texas — Lawmakers continue to speak out against Gov. Abbott’s office saying state agencies and universities should stop considering diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in hiring. According to the letter sent by Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff, hiring cannot be based on factors “other than merit.” One of LT. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities is to do away with DEI policies in higher education as well.

Spectrum News reached out to several state universities and received no response. 

Angela Valenzuela, a professor of education at the University of Texas at Austin, said if schools make statements that disagree with the governor, it could impact funding. 

Gary Bledsoe, the president of the Texas NAACP, said DEI policies were designed to open doors that would otherwise be closed to Black and Hispanic Americans, among others.

“We pay taxes just like white Texans to finance the state government and its services. We deserve to be represented in high-level jobs,” he said. 

He said the NBA, NFL, MLB and NCAA should decline to have any all-star games, Super Bowls, or regional tournaments in Texas until Gov. Abbott reverses course.

Rep. Jolanda Jones, D-Houston, said there’s so much else lawmakers could focus on right now.

“We need to stop criminalizing people. We need to be working on mental health issues. We need to be working on maternal mortality. We need to be working on infant mortality. We need to be working on access to health care,” she said. 

In response to the letter to dismantle DEI policies, a spokesperson for the governor wrote in part, “Aspiring to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, we should not be judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.”

But the reference to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — who dedicated his life to civil rights and equality — didn’t sit right with some lawmakers.

“Dr. King [was] talking about Black kids and Brown kids and everyone having access to opportunity,” Rep. Jones said. “So it sort of makes me think that [the governor] has a lack of understanding of what Dr. King stood for.” 

Just a mile away from the Capitol, Gov. Abbott spoke with small business owners on Tuesday. He applauded the success of Black, Hispanic and veteran entrepreneurs.

“The economy in Texas works for everybody in this state,” he said.

But Rep. Victoria Neave Criado (D-Dallas) said the anti-DEI rhetoric will discourage people of color from pursuing business opportunities in Texas.

“Texas is the ninth largest economy in the world because of our diverse and hardworking Black and Brown community,” she said. “If we remove these opportunities by erasing DEI, where will that take our Texas economy?”

Lawmakers are outraged by the governor and lieutenant governor’s anti-DEI sentiments, especially when they’d like to be celebrating Black History Month and the 50-year anniversary of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

“Let me be clear: We are not rolling over. We are not afraid of the governor. And we’re going to fight,” Rep. Jones said.

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