The Houston Realty Business Coalition hosts monthly breakfast meetings featuring some of the most influential figures in state and local politics. Founded in 1967, the HRBC, formerly called the Houston Realty Breakfast Club, is an institutional hub for Houston’s business conservatives.
Breakfast with the HRBC offers an opportunity to meet, hear or button-hole ambitious political figures at every stage of their career. If you are considering a run for office in the Houston area, particularly on the Republican ballot, the HRBC is a room you will probably have to work successfully to win. If you have a political issue you want to bring to the attention of someone in charge, or someone who might one day be in charge, a table at the HRBC is an excellent place to get yourself heard.
Speakers invited to address a meeting get a valuable free forum to promote their campaign or explain a policy agenda. The real action, though, is around the tables. Breakfast at the HRBC is a chance to meet tomorrow’s Congressional candidates as they campaign for the courts, school board, county executive offices or other local positions. It is an opportunity to learn what these people are like in person before placing them in a position to impact your life.
What makes the HRBC and groups like it particularly powerful is their multifunctional nature. The HRBC is not a political party. It is closely tied to the GOP, but it often features Democratic speakers and guests. Activism is its primary function. It is officially registered as a PAC and makes open political endorsements. The real power of the group, though, is its deep roots that extend beyond politics.
HRBC is also a business club. The members and leadership may share a core of political ideas, but they must also work together in the real estate community on a day to day basis. Wielding influence inside the HRBC requires more than showing up, paying a fee and spouting an opinion. Relationships formed outside the meeting and beyond the scope of politics can increase or decrease one’s political sway at the breakfast table. And pig-headed political incivility at breakfast can impact one’s bottom line in business.
In short, this overlap between politics and extra-political interests helps to keep a lid on the most extreme impulses of the group’s individual members. There is only so much irrational, uncivil behavior one can afford to indulge before it begins to create pressure on one’s day job. The members maintain a complex accountability to one another that inspires at least some modicum of moderation.
Organizations like the HRBC have a clear financial dimension to them. It costs money to attend, roughly $50 a head on a per-meeting basis or an annual fee of $350. That means that access to the breakfast table is relatively open and within the reach of most people. That’s true of most similar organizations across the spectrum. Money is not the most important qualifier for membership and influence.
Groups like the HRBC are built on personal networks. Nothing stops the random yahoo off the street from laying down $50 and showing up, but that doesn’t happen a lot. Very few people outside of real estate or Houston politics even know about it. They do not advertise or actively promote themselves. Most members first learned about the organization through an invitation from a friend or colleague.
For Houston residents who can spare a few early morning hours once a month and can absorb the modest cost, the HRBC offers a chance to participate in their government in a uniquely powerful way. Similar opportunities exist all over the spectrum, from partisan political organizations to PTA’s, service clubs and business groups.
Our political system is not built on elections. It is not built on money. It is built on the hundreds of thousands of institutions that tie us together in bonds of common interest and accountability. These institutions are where the real work of politics gets done. Political influence rises from the careful, strategic investment of time and effort in these organizations.
The health of those institutions determines how much influence can be purchased at what price. It also determines how much is really at stake on Election Day.
If money is a problem in our political system, and it is, that’s because the amount and quality of our direct involvement has declined below a critical level. Righting that imbalance requires us to put our shoulders behind our convictions and play a greater personal role in our communities. The good news is that there is a fix. The bad news is that it costs us something we are loath to part with – our time.