They came to Texas for the big houses and barbecue - they also got new laws on abortion, guns and voting
There was a lot to like in Austin when Kevin Longley moved here from Maryland's Montgomery County a month and a half ago. His wife had been promoted to her tech company, and their new city already had a reputation for being cheaper, more relaxed Silicon Valley. They bought a 3,000-square-foot, five-bedroom house, much larger than what they are outside of D.C. could afford. There were breakfast tacos and great grilled dishes and weekend trips to the nearby lakes with her 5 year old daughter.
And then. In July, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning government agencies, including public schools, from requesting masks or vaccinations (the Texas Supreme Court denied his request last month), despite the rising death toll State: More than 6,000 Texans have died from Covid-19 in the last month. On September 1, a law went into effect allowing Texans to carry a handgun in public without permission or the background exam and training previously required by the state. On the same day, the Supreme Court refused to block a Texas law banning abortion from the sixth week of pregnancy, one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. (The Department of Justice has sued Texas to challenge the law.) On September 7, Abbott signed a bill that creates tough new voting rules in the state.
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For new Texans who had emigrated from bluer pastures, even one of these laws would be a lot to bear. And now all within two months?
"It's hard to believe that some of these laws actually exist," says Longley. "And then you look around and say, 'Oh. Wait. This is our state. That's where we live.'"
From the depths of the pandemic, Texas beckoned with its spacious, affordable four-bedroom houses with courtyards and swimming pools, the amenities of the big city, the quirky charm and the excellent food scene. Texas Realtors' 2021 Texas Relocation Report found that more than half a million people moved to Texas from other states in 2019, the last year for which data was available. Especially from California, many Texans have noticed an influx - some even commute between the two states - and William Fulton, the director of the Children's Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, has broken it down further in a blog post: 2018 and 2019 were something more than 80,000 Californian Texans.
Many of them followed their tech jobs. Apple, Facebook and Google have offices in Austin. Oracle announced in December that it would also move to Austin (although founder Larry Ellison didn't want to: he moved to Hawaii). Hewlett-Packard announced last year that it would move its headquarters from San Jose to Spring, Texas, a suburb of Houston. Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk moved to Austin last year, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott told CNBC that he “speaks frequently” to the tech billionaire.
"Elon keeps telling me that he likes the state of Texas welfare," Abbott said.
“In general, I believe that governments should seldom impose their will on people while trying to maximize their cumulative happiness. Still, I'd prefer to stay out of politics, ”Musk tweeted in response. (A representative from SpaceX, one of Musk's companies, didn't respond to a request about what Texas’s social policies Musk supports or doesn't.)
Celebrities have also come in droves, mostly to Austin: "Westworld" star James Marsden, "Girl, Wash Your Face" author and motivational speaker Rachel Hollis, controversial podcaster Joe Rogan, who recently contracted Covid-19. "Dawson's Creek" star James Van Der Beek, his wife and five children posed for a spread in Austin Life magazine at their new ranch ("I felt an energy for Austin," the star said). Actresses Haylie Duff, Becca Tobin and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who formed a pandemic capsule together, moved their families to Austin as a unit. ("You don't pay to park anywhere," Tobin told the New York Times.) Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness shot a season of his show in Austin and loved it so much that he and his husband decided to stay. ("I had my four cats and was on that lake at an Airbnb and I thought, do I love Austin? Is that a liberal bastion in Texas? And it kind of is," he told Self Magazine.)
In fact, the state has solved problems for expats from both political poles. For conservatives, it was a place where they could send their children back to school without having to wear a mask or possession of a gun and not have to pay state income taxes. For liberals, it was - well, Austin specifically - a city of tech jobs, housing relief in the Bay Area, and full of like-minded voters. The blueberry in the cherry pie, as an apocryphal Texas saying goes.
"The pandemic lockdown put a lot of things into perspective for me," says Lexx Miller, 27, who moved from Brooklyn to Austin. "I was getting older and wanted a bit of variety in the landscape, people and quality of life, but I still wanted to feel like I was in a big city."
For Brian Harden, 47, of Seattle, it was taxes that made him move to Texas. "They don't have state income tax," he noted. Also: "My wife and I are both gun owners and we are big supporters of the second amendment."
But everything is bigger in Texas, including regrets. They immediately stood up for Tanny Martin, 66, a retired nurse who moved to Austin from Massachusetts last year to be closer to her son and lower the cost of living. As a self-proclaimed “blue state person” and “aging hippie”, she had rationalized it by remembering that she was moving to a liberal city.
It's "the part of the state where people have purple hair, and that's comforting," she says. "But there's three percent here and, you know, secessionists, and I mean it's still Texas."
For them, the new gun law is the most terrible part of their new home. In between and the threat of Covid "I don't go out much because I don't really feel safe," she says.
This also makes it difficult for newcomers to make friends.
“It definitely feels very isolating when you just move here. You want to see all the sights and meet new people and nobody goes anywhere, ”said Kyle Miller, 27, who moved to Austin from the Dayton, Ohio area (and not related to Lexx Miller). It is "very strange" to see all the maskless people out and about, he says.
Yet the state has a powerful allure, packed with its own oversized mythology, boastful style, and the promise that life there will be a little different.
That's what Bill Ross, 63, loves about it. When Ross moved from California, "I got nine millimeters for each family member," he says. "I went out and bought an AR-15 and I think it's a very healthy thing."
Guns weren't the main reason he moved. He brought his family to Boerne, Texas - pronounced "Bernie", one of the hill country towns of German descent - after being dissatisfied with his son's middle school in his Los Gatos, California community and state finances political career. His only regret about leaving California was that he would not be able to remove Governor Gavin Newsom. He says Abbott is doing a good job. He supports the state's new electoral laws.
"I don't think they're extreme. I think they make a lot of sense," he says. "I think if you can't control the voting, you can't control the protection of the constitution either."
However, the abortion law made him pause: "I don't know if six weeks is the right thing to do," he says. "I am in favor of a choice. I am not happy with the way abortion is used as a method of birth control."
But Ross is excited about his new life in Texas. He no longer has to worry about forest fires in California. Over the summer he sold his house well above asking price and was able to buy one almost three times the size outside of San Antonio for about a third the price. It also has a pool. He loves his neighbors, who are "very hospitable".
“Whenever people asked, 'Well, where are you from?' we ducked and said 'California', "he says," and then immediately: 'But you took in Conservative voters!' "
Even the more liberal-minded new Texans feel welcomed by their new neighbors. It's the people they left behind who gave them trouble.
"I picked the worst possible time to come here," says Kyle Miller. As part of the abortion law, his friends posted anti-Texas memes.
"My boyfriend apparently already took it down, but there was a (meme) that was like an outline of Texas and it was just labeled 'Dumba ** istan'," says Kyle Miller. Another, tweeted by @ sundae_gurl2 and a few others: "The single star on the flag of Texas is actually a review."
The culture shocks were not all political, however. Miller, who delivers food for DoorDash, had to adjust to city traffic and the abundance of scooter drivers who can be reckless with cars. Lexx Miller was stunned when she first saw shop clerks wearing buttons that read "Mask Free". Ross was impressed by how much better the roads were than in California. And Longley was pleasantly surprised that people in Texas talk about things other than politics.
"When you're in that DC bubble, it seems like everything is on high alert all the time when it comes to political news," he says. "It puts a strain on my psyche." But maybe it's part of what got the state where it is now.
Left-wing voters see a silver lining in the recent political turmoil: now that they live here, they can work to correct their course.
"I'll definitely see myself if I go out and vote and try to reverse a lot of those laws that were just passed," says Kyle Miller. "I don't know how long this fight will last or how successful it will be."
In Maryland, "your voice is like a drop in the ocean," says Longley. "Out here you know your voice really matters."
As much as they complain about their timing, the new Texans are mostly glad they made their moves. Lexx Miller doesn't see herself as a lifelong resident of Texas, but she has no regrets: "As a minority in America, there are few places where I can feel absolutely safe," she says. "My quality of life here is better."
Not for everyone. Abbott's handling of Covid gave Harden, the Seattle gun owner, a break. However, he finally gave up his plans to move to Texas after the abortion law came out and his wife vetoed it: "That was the nail in the coffin."
Now he says, "We may be playing with Tennessee."
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