Rick Perry brings the swagger factor to the race for the White House. What else does he have?

Photo Credit: Travis County, Texas.
Photo Credit: Travis County, Texas.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry today became the 10th declared candidate seeking the Republican nomination to run for president, because nine is just not enough.  The narrative offered as background noise to the announcement weaves two threads. On the one hand, Governor Perry can tout a positive economic record while governing a large state. On the other hand, the Governor must overcome the most memorable “oops moment” of recent presidential  campaigns, when he failed to recall which government agencies he planned to axe as president. For the record, the correct answer was “we do not need a Department of Energy as long as we are fracking the crap out of the ground underneath our feet. Never mind the earthquakes.”

The Perry campaign’s response to the oops moment has been that it will not happen again, which they can say with some certainty because this time their man has studied up on all that policy stuff. Hopefully, the Governor’s concept of studying has evolved since his mostly c’s and d’s tenure at Texas A & M. But his less than stellar academic record is not what worries me most–heck, at least he graduated which is more than Scott Walker can say. No, what bothers me about the campaign explanation, handcrafted over four years waiting for the next go-round, is that last time he ran, Governor Perry thought you could be president without paying attention to “all that policy stuff.”

A quick look at Rick Perry’s early career reveals a dog whose spots have not changed much. Elected to the Texas House as a moderate Democrat, in 1987 he supported the $5.7 billion tax increase offered by moderate Republican Governor Bill Clements. In 1988, representative Perry served as state campaign chairman for creator of the internet and chief climatologist Al Gore. So we know that through the first 40 years of his life, Rick Perry was “a fir piece” politically from the ground he stakes out today.

In 1990, Perry crossed the aisle when Karl Rove recruited him to run for commissioner of agriculture as part of cadre of new GOPers who would take advantage of the state’s changing political climate. With Rove’s fundraising ability filling his sails, Perry won a bruising general election against Jim Hightower, a win based primarily on charges of misconduct in Hightower’s staff. Now it may be that  Governor Perry had a change of heart about how government should work when he decided to switch parties. If he did, however, that conversion had not taken hold when in 1993 he announced his support for the Clinton healthcare reform plan, support he now attributes to the fact the plan would have been good for rural healthcare.

Perry served six years as agricultural commissioner, often helping to make sure that farmers got their government subsidies and assistance. In 1998, Texas elected him Lieutenant Governor and he moved to the Governor’s mansion in 2001 when George Bush became president. The mansion then burned down, a catastrophe I do not blame on the Governor. Although not serving as his own general contractor, he brought the remodel in at  $25 million and just under four years. It was during this remodel the Governor gave up his life long membership in the Methodist church to attend a non-denominational congregation that was “closer to his rental home.” Left unsaid was that the new church was also closer to his political base.

I will admit, my distaste for Governor Perry may be out of proportion to his actual evilness, for three reasons. First, Interstate 35 between Dallas and San Marcos. I have traveled that road hundreds of times in the 14 years Rick Perry served as Governor. It has been a miserable experience almost every single time because it is a construction project that never ends. I assume he had some connection with the Texas Department of Transportation while Governor. If so, the ineptness in managing that particular project does not bode well for managing a nation.

But more importantly, his answer to the sort of problem I-35 presented was a consistent one–build a toll road.  Toll roads proliferated in Texas over the last 14 years.  And while it is fun to travel 5-7 miles per hour above the 85 mph speed limit on SH 130, the trip from Georgetown to San Marcos costs me $14.00 each time. User fees are taxes and the toll makes Perry disingenuous when he says he is anti-tax. More importantly, user fees represent Perry’s  view of government, which is that government is a service to be paid for individually; if you cannot afford  the service, forget it. Which seems right for Neiman Marcus but  problematic for the State of Texas or the United States.

Second, when the rubber hit the road in the 2011 budgeting sessions, Governor Perry threw schools and teachers under the bus. I know there is waste in school budgets, just as there is waste in any budget–corporate, personal or governmental. I know the recession meant we needed to tighten our belts. But we had rainy day funds available and it was raining. Much of the pain could have been avoided if the Governor had not seen the crisis as an opportunity to permanently cripple public schools in favor of private options.

Third, the combination of Perry’s lack of respect for education and learning, coupled with his opportunist streak, makes him less than an ideal role model. I do not agree with hardly anything Ted Cruz has to say and find some of Rand Paul’s ideas scary. Each man, however, came by his convictions honestly and enunciates principled reasons for his platform. Rick Perry just wants to be president because it would be cool. We can do better.

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