Convenience-store chain Buc-ee’s Ltd. has garnered lots of attention for its clean restrooms. But this week, it’s the owners’ endorsement of tea party favorite Dan Patrick, who faces incumbent David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff for lieutenant governor, that’s drawn the spotlight.
Congressman Joaquin Castro has bashed Buc-ee’s owners over the endorsement and Monday called for a boycott of the stores.
In a tweet, the San Antonio Democrat said he wouldn’t gas up at Buc-ee’s “since they support a fear-mongering immigrant basher.”
Castro’s brother, Mayor Julián Castro, is expected to debate immigration reform with Patrick in April after the two traded barbs though social media.
But any antipathy toward Buc-ee’s puts its critics at odds with legions of Buc-ee’s fans.
They say they love the stores’ reasonable gas prices, squeaky-clean restrooms, foods from jerky to Beaver Nuggets and shelves of Texas kitsch.
Lake Jackson-based Buc-ee’s was founded in 1982 by Arch “Beaver” Aplin III and Don Wasek.
The company operates 28 stores, mostly in Southeast and Central Texas, its website says. More are planned.
Buc-ee’s Aplin and Wasek didn’t return phone calls seeking comment about the company’s long-range expansion plans or their political stance.
Campaign finance reports show the two have donated thousands of dollars to Republican candidates over the past two decades, including a combined $11,100 to Gov. Rick Perry and $50,000 to Attorney General Greg Abbott on Jan. 21.
However, reports did not reflect a donation to Patrick, likely because candidates have not filed updated reports since the March 4 primary election.
Buc-ee’s general counsel Jeff Nadalo said in an email that Aplin and Wasek have contributed to Patrick’s campaign, but “as a company, Buc-ee’s doesn’t support political candidates” and the company’s doors “are open 24/7 to everyone.”
Attorney Nadalo reiterated that distinction between the owners (Buc-ee’s is not a publicly traded company) and the company to Bud Kennedy. As Stace notes, that would make them an exception to the “corporations are people, my friend” mantra. Well, they’re free to support the candidates of their choice, and other people are free to decide what that means to them. I think you’re on solid ground if you decide you’ll just use their famous bathrooms but not spend any money there. I must note there is some nuance in all this:
In his talk in Terrell, Aplin said Buc-ee’s normally pays 40 percent to 45 percent above the area’s industry average for similar jobs.
A cashier in Terrell will start at $11 to $11.50 an hour, he said. For the Texas City store, the company is hiring cashiers, food-service workers and maintenance workers at pay that ranges from $11 to $14 an hour, its website states. When Buc-ee’s opened a 67,000-square-foot store in New Braunfels in 2012, it was a plus for that community’s economy, a local official said.
“There is no doubt that it makes a difference, but being able to quantify that is difficult,” said Rusty Brockman, director of economic development for the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce. “But I can quantify it in this way: They brought a great name and a destination to New Braunfels — a business that is clean, progressive and run by a true entrepreneur. And they brought 225 jobs paying more than $12 an hour.”
It would be easier to demonize them if they treated their employees like dirt. And if you’re not feeling conflicted now, consider this:
Buc-ee’s co-owner Arch “Beaver” Aplin gave $12,000 to Democrat Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.
Jeff Nadalo, general counsel for Buc-ee’s, told Lone Star Q on Wednesday he isn’t sure why Aplin, who lives in Lake Jackson, where Buc-ee’s is headquartered, would contribute money to Obama — who has become public enemy No. 1 for Patrick and other Texas Republicans.
“Your guess would be as good as mine,” Nadalo said. “I know the media is portraying them [the Buc-ee's owners] as staunch Republicans, but I couldn’t even tell you their political affiliation. I think they’re just smart business guys.”
Likewise, people have a right not to spend money at Buc-ee’s, but Nadalo said when it comes to LGBT issues, the company is supportive. For example, he said some customers recently complained about a transgender employee at the company’s Cypress location.
“I think the LGBT community would be pleased to hear that despite protests from customers, Buc-ee’s has treated her just like we would any other employee,” Nadalo said. “We’ve embraced her into our family. We did not fall prey to that rhetoric. The corporate social philosophy of the company has clearly been driven in a direction which is conducive to the LGBT objective.”
However, Nadalo confirmed the company doesn’t have an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy. He said the company’s current policy mirrors federal law, but added he’d be willing to take up the matter with the human resources department.
“I would certainly be happy to bring it to their attention that we’re perhaps not on paper espousing the objectives that some of our customers would like to see,” Nadalo said.
Asked about domestic partner benefits, Nadalo said the company doesn’t currently offer health insurance to employees, but plans to begin doing so soon.
“If we extend coverage to straight partners, we would extend it to gay partners,” he said.
They’ll have to offer health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week under the Affordable Care Act, right? They don’t have to offer domestic partner benefits, but I hope they do, and I hope they follow through as Nadalo expects.
Anyway. I’m in the vicinity of a Buc-ee’s maybe twice a year, so any behavioral changes I make are not going to be noticed by anyone. We’ll probably still take potty breaks there, because the kids like the place. Let’s just say my feelings about the franchise are a lot more complicated now. Campos and Texas Leftist have more.