U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks to the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Friday said though this is a “crazy time” in the nation, he pointed to employment gains in Texas and elsewhere as evidence his party’s economic agenda is paying off.

Speaking to members of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce as part of its 2019 Congressional Series program, Cruz said jobs, freedom, and national security are his top concerns and highlighted tax reform and foreign policy.

Valero Energy CEO Joe Gorder introduced Cruz at the luncheon Friday attended by about 250 businesspeople, describing Cruz as “probably the sharpest knife in the drawer and one of the most ethical individuals.”

“We’re very grateful at Valero, but I think we should all be grateful that we’ve got an individual with these qualities that is willing to represent us,” Gorder said.

Cruz, a two-term senator who narrowly defeated Democratic challenger and current presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke last November, began his talk by describing recent gains in employment across the country and especially in the state.

He said he has made jobs a priority because he understands they are important to his constituents. “As you travel across the state … Texans want jobs,” he said. “We want more jobs. We want higher wages. We want more opportunities.”

While employment in several sectors is up nationwide, Texas has the lowest unemployment the state has seen in 50 years, he said, and is the No. 1 state in the nation for wage increases. “That’s powerful. And one of the greatest drivers of that is energy.”

But he said his work on tax reform and reducing regulation is what has led to economic growth in the state.

“The two most effective levers that government has for creating an environment for small businesses to grow and prosper are tax reform and regulatory reform,” he said. “If you look back on the last two-and-a-half years, the most significant legislative accomplishment is in December 2017 when we came together and passed the latest tax code.”

Low unemployment means there are fewer people relying on food stamps today, he said. “That’s 6 million people who have presumably gone out and gotten jobs,” he said. “And those are men and women, moms and dads, who are walking home tonight with a bag of groceries in their hands and sitting at the kitchen table and looking at their kids with renewed sense of hope.”

Cruz spoke briefly but fervently about his second priority, freedom, starting out by saying he has described Texas many times before “as America on steroids.”

“The ethos of our state [is] you can give me a horse and a gun and an open plain, and we can conquer the world – that’s who we are, that’s who Texas is,” Cruz said. While Texans cherish their rights under the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Second Amendment, he said we are at a crossroads of upholding those rights or tearing them down.

One of his party’s most recent significant accomplishments for the people of Texas, he said, was confirming 146 new federal judges “who will defend the Constitution and Bill of Rights for all Texans.”

National security remains another of his top priorities. “This is a dangerous world … and when America is weak, it is an even more dangerous world,” he said. “I think the most troubling part of the foreign policy under Barack Obama is that our friends and allies didn’t trust us and our enemies didn’t fear us. That’s a dangerous combination, and we have made significant steps toward reversing that.”

Rebuilding a “badly compromised” military was the first step toward that end, he said, adding that he also engaged vigorously and actively with President Donald Trump and the administration in moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing that city as the capital of Israel. “The president made a bold and courageous choice,” he said of the decision.

Cruz also responded to questions from the audience on topics ranging from protecting the environment and supporting veterans to repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the 2020 elections. He panned the Green New Deal, a climate-action and economic plan sponsored by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) as proposing a “mass murder of cows” and ridding the world of airplanes within 10 years.

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...