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Red State of Mind

How one relocation company is helping conservatives find their happy place—North Texas.
By Peter Simek |
paul and brenda chabot
Elizabeth Lavin

Here’s the story that Democrats like to tell each other in Texas: according to the 2020 Census, over the past decade the state grew by roughly 4 million new residents. North Texas added 1.2 million. Much of this increase has been driven by people moving here, with about 687,000 of these new Texans—17 percent of the state’s total population increase—coming from California. These liberal transplants are helping to turn Texas blue.

Not so fast.

A few months ago, I logged into a Zoom seminar hosted by a McKinney-based relocation company called Conservative Move. I’d read about the firm in coverage of the January 6 protests and the 19 North Texans who’d been arrested for storming the U.S. Capitol. Conservative Move manages a network of politically like-minded real estate agents, homebuilders, moving companies, and mortgage bankers that assists blue state expats with their move to red Texas. To national media outlets, Conservative Move fits neatly into a narrow depiction of Dallas’ northern suburbs as a monocultural hotbed of right-wing extremism. But having written about the sometimes counterintuitive character of Dallas’ diverse and multifaceted burbs, I wanted to hear how Conservative Move marketed North Texas—and get a sense of how the company’s efforts might color the state.

Conservative Move’s founder, Paul Chabot, who had invited me to attend the seminar, kicked off the proceedings. The 47-year-old Navy veteran and California native worked in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. He has the boyish, clean-cut look of a D.C. political staffer, and as he began his pitch, he sounded like a chamber of commerce suit. North Texas, Chabot said, boasts quality schools, relatively affordable housing, low taxes, a strong job market, and a business-friendly environment.

Chabot’s own journey to North Texas began after a failed bid for a congressional seat in California. In 2013, he read a Money magazine article that listed McKinney as the best place in America to raise a family, and, fed up with what he saw as California’s ongoing “deterioration” under its Democratic government, Chabot and his wife, Brenda, decided to try their luck in North Texas.

“We moved our children here to live the American dream,” Chabot said on the Zoom.

After he spoke, homebuilder Erin Kvistad and real estate agent Bridget Nelson—also California transplants—shared their own relocation stories. The two met through Tea Party events and moved to Collin County after they gave up on trying to create political change in California. Kvistad was shocked when she learned she could afford an acre of land in North Texas. Nelson is excited for her son to start college at Texas A&M. To the unknown number of seminar attendees (the count was hidden from participants) they bragged about how Gov. Greg Abbott had refused to issue mask mandates, how school districts were pushing back against critical race theory, and how Texans were trying to “build our own border wall, God help us.”

Chabot directly challenged the notion that California transplants were tilting Texas to the left. “Google ‘Beto Cruz exit polling Texas,’ ” he said. “It will bring up a 2018 exit poll that showed that, by a 60-40 split, those moving here are voting for the Republican Party.”

He’s right. A CNN exit poll of 2,431 respondents found that among native Texans, Beto O’Rourke beat Ted Cruz 51 to 48 percent. But of the people who said they’d moved here, 57 percent said they voted for Cruz, while 42 percent voted for O’Rourke.

When I later reach Chabot on the phone, he explains that the idea to start Conservative Move came to him after he moved to North Texas and met his neighbors. “So many people that we met had moved to Texas for the same reasons we did, and we had no idea,” Chabot says. “It was funny. My neighbor across the street was from Yucaipa, which is just a few cities over from my home city of Rancho Cucamonga. The postman who delivered our mail was from the city of Long Beach. I go to Home Depot, and the guy Bob who works the piping area is from Anaheim.”

For Chabot, it made sense that so many Californians were fleeing to Texas.He lays the blame of skyrocketing housing costs, congestion, and crime on a Democratic-controlled state government that has passed bills aimed at criminal justice reform and relaxing drug laws. He ran for office with hopes of changing that, but when he visited McKinney during a long layover at DFW Airport, he discovered a little corner of the world that was already great again.

“It was remarkable,” Chabot says. “It reminded me of how California used to be. There was no graffiti. I didn’t see the homeless. People were out walking. It just seemed like a great place.”

Conservative Move has proven Chabot’s hunch that there were more people like him: right-identifying, disillusioned residents of liberal states looking to move to a place where they would no longer feel like ideological outcasts. When Conservative Move launched, in 2018, it garnered coverage from major media outlets such as CNN, NPR, and Fox Business. News crews from France, Japan, and Australia flew in to report on the relocation company shepherding a blue-state exodus. Chabot won’t provide hard numbers, but he estimates his organization is responsible for “thousands” of relocations to Texas and other red states.

“It’s not just from California to Texas,” he says. “We’ve grown now from just that model. We operate out of 40 states. Texas is certainly our most popular state. We are helping folks move out of New York, Seattle, Portland, and Chicago, and they’re going to Texas, they’re going to Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho.”

The media attention Conservative Move has received is not surprising given how neatly its mission fits into the narrative about America’s deepening political polarization. But as I hear Chabot describe his clients—“just middle-class families with young kids that say they want to have the American dream again”—I wonder if something else is going on.

Earlier this year, academics at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research found that the increase in California to Texas transplants correlated with the former’s escalating housing costs. When housing prices jumped up, more people left. That story parallels the rationale for so many large companies moving to Texas. Toyota, Oracle, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, CBRE, and Charles Schwab all left California in search of business-friendly tax laws and relatively low property costs.

There is other research that shows Conservative Move’s approach to relocation reflects a national trend. In a study released in March, Harvard researchers analyzed the addresses of 180 million registered voters and found that nearly all Americans live in neighborhoods that are so politically segregated that residents are unlikely to encounter people with opposing views in their day-to-day lives. If there is anything that is unique about Conservative Move, it is how it takes this segregation and turns it into a marketing pitch.

On the Zoom call, Chabot and his colleagues urged prospective transplants to become engaged politically after they arrive in Texas and to resist the social pressures and political correctness that they believe ruined California. “People in Texas have always had this freedom,” Kvistad said. “They have been a red state for a long time, and they don’t recognize what they have.”

Listening to this pitch, I can’t help but recognize an obvious irony. Californians are moving to Texas to get away from California’s problems—expensive housing, ridiculous commutes—but as more Californians come to Texas, our population only grows, and with that growth come the problems transplants are trying to outrun. Cities such as McKinney and Plano, as they’ve built out to their borders, have had to manage density and wrestle with complicated questions about building transportation infrastructure through formerly rural communities. Collin County is staring down big-city problems like homelessness, overcrowded schools, and exploding housing costs. Those acre lots California transplants brag about are becoming more expensive and increasingly scarce.

But then, the more I listen to Conservative Move’s pitch, the less grounded in reality it seems to be. They’re selling an imaginary Texas, a place where one can be left alone to live a quiet life surrounded by like-minded neighbors, unbothered by the crises that fuel the country’s deepening political divide. It’s an understandable desire. We live in confusing and uncertain times. Collin County, like many suburban regions around the country, is beginning to grapple with widening inequality, rising costs of living, and long-ignored issues of social injustice. On the national stage, politicians from both parties appear unable to rise to meet the daunting challenges of shifting geopolitical power and ecological collapse. To Californians seeking to flee the consequences of this fallout, North Texas offers not so much a better version of America but a place where one can pretend to live in an America that no longer exists.

“It was freedom and flags and people and America,” Nelson said on the Zoom, describing her first experience of North Texas. “To me, it was like the 1970s. It was awesome.”

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