March 9, 2010
Memo to Rick Perry: Santa Anna thought it was all over after the Alamo, too.
Last week–ironically, on Texas Independence Day–Texas Gov. Rick Perry won a smashing victory over his primary challenger, Texas’s senior United States senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, by 21 points. He did it the old-fashioned way: jingoism and vitriol, appealing to the lowest common denominators among Republican base voters.
Rick Perry may have won the battle and lost the war, because here’s the truly offensive part: He doesn’t believe a word of it. Every outrageous pronouncement is simply a foil to set himself as the True Texan in the race. The more eastern pundits attack him, the better he likes it. Perry has reincarnated himself as Ricky the 14th: T’Exas, C’est Moi.
So what’s behind the hairspray? Rick Perry is as cynical and mundane a politician as they come. He talks about promoting jobs while raising taxes on small businesses. He talks about being a stand-up guy and fighting Washington corruption while protecting the lobbyist/government revolving door in Texas. He rails against Washington while ensuring that Texas remains a federal tax “donor state.” And he relentlessly ensures that Texas kids end up at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Among Perry’s finer moments:
The same day Perry vetoed a bill to close a lobbyist/government employee loophole, he named a lobbyist to be his chief of staff. Seventeen former Perry aides are now lobbyists.
Numerous state studies have shown that early childhood education cuts crime rates and lessens the likelihood of kids ending up in jail–both of which are far more expensive to taxpayers.
Perry vetoed a bill that passed the legislature by overwhelming margins and would have stopped the use of taxpayer funds to promote the construction of toll roads.
Perry surrendered over a half billion in Texas federal tax dollars to other states by threatening to veto and ultimately helping to block key legislation to keep the Texas Unemployment Insurance fund from going broke. Perry’s actions will require unemployment tax rates to be raised on all Texas businesses, hitting small businesses especially hard.
And this is where Democratic nominee Bill White comes in. White, a five-time mayor of Houston, trails Perry by only around six points in most polls despite lagging in recognition statewide. He regularly cut property taxes in Houston and maintained a tight fiscal ship in a city with a population as big as the entire state of Colorado.
It won’t be easy, but it can be done. As longtime Democratic strategist Matt Angle points out, “Since 2004, Democratic candidates statewide have averaged just over 43 percent of the vote. The Texas Democratic Trust has helped build a significant Democratic infrastructure that has helped both local and statewide candidates.”
Half the voters in Texas live in five urban counties–Harris (Houston), Travis (Austin), Dallas, Tarrant (Fort Worth), and Bexar (San Antonio)–all of which have a history of electing Democratic mayors (although it should be noted that mayoral candidates aren’t identified by party). White’s successor in Houston, Annise Parker, is the first open lesbian elected mayor of a major U.S. city. In 2008, Barack Obama carried all of those areas except Tarrant County.
Furthermore, Perry’s loopier pronouncements on secession and ruthless self-promotion on the national stage have turned off moderate Republicans and independents and led to a sense of Perry Fatigue.
As Texas State Senator and former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson puts it, “Texans love Texas and the prospect of what Texas can be. We know we enjoy what we have because of the legacy left to us by our parents and grandparents, but we have serious questions whether under the current leadership the next generation will do the same. Right now we see a governor focused on his political future, not the future of Texas.”
The Cook Political Report rates the race as a toss-up, and if the focus remains on Perry’s lack of substance rather than his state fair carnival barker act, Texas could elect a Democratic governor in November.