As the presidential race heats up, a popular governor of Texas may be poised to sweep the head of the pack of forgettable Republican candidates. This is not a flashback to the 2000 presidential primaries that ended in the nomination of George W. Bush, but a possible outcome of the 2012 primary should current Texas governor Rick Perry decide to enter the race as appears increasingly likely.
Perry is a native Texan and a graduate of Texas A&M. After college, he joined the Air Force and served as a pilot of C-130 Hercules transports. After leaving the Air Force, Perry returned to Texas where he joined the family business as a cotton farmer.
Perry’s political career began as a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1984. Even as a Democrat, Perry was fiscally conservative. In the Texas house, he was a member of the “Pit Bulls,” a group of appropriations committee members who fought spending increases.
In 1988, Perry was the Texas chairman for Al Gore’s presidential campaign. The next year he changed his party affiliation to Republican saying, “I came to my senses” according to Politifact.com. Immediately after becoming a Republican, Perry was elected Agriculture Commissioner, an office that he held for two terms. In 1998, he became the first Texas Republican lieutenant governor since Reconstruction. In 2000, he became governor when George W. Bush resigned to become president of the United States. Since then, he has won re-election twice.
Gov. Perry presides over one of the few bright spots in the current economy. CNN Money notes that Texas, with no state income tax, has one of the lowest combined state and local tax burdens of any state at 8.4% placing it forty-third out of the fifty states. Georgia’s combined tax burden is 9.9% for a rank of thirteen. The Tax Foundation ranks Texas as one of the most business-friendly states at thirteen. Georgia ranks twenty-fifth.
Low taxes and regulation have paid off. According to the Federal Reserve and the Wall St. Journal, Texas accounts for forty-five percent of American job creation. Since the beginning of the recovery, Texas has produced thirty-seven percent of net U.S. jobs. USA Today points out that the Texas economy has grown twenty-six percent over the past decade, one of the largest increases of any state economy in the past fifty years. The Texas economy is now second only to California, which is may be entering a period of decline.
What makes Texas’ growth all the more interesting is that in 2009 Perry rejected his state’s share of the federal stimulus money. USA Today reported that Perry rejected the $555 million because of conditions that the federal government placed upon the use of the money, such as an expansion of unemployment insurance. During his tenure as governor, Perry has supported limitations on abortion, reform of medical malpractice laws, and the Trans-Texas Corridor, a large infrastructure project that would have expanded Texas roads, rail and data lines. The plan for the corridor was shelved in 2009 amid public opposition. He has vetoed more bills than any other Texas governor.
Perry has raised eyebrows several times during his career. In 2009, he made comments that were construed to be an endorsement of secession after a Tea Party event. At the event some attendees shouted, “Secede!” Afterward, Perry was quoted by the Austin Statesman as saying, “We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."
The Atlanta Journal political blog has a video of Perry’s speech at the rally, which does not mention secession, and notes that it sounds as if only one or two people shout the word “secede” and then only one time. The blog notes that others laughed and that it seemed that the shout was a joke. In any case, Perry’s comments are hardly a call for Texas to leave the Union.
Perry has also faced criticism for several executions carried out by the State of Texas. This year, Humberto Leal Garcia was executed for the rape and murder of a sixteen-year-old girl. The execution was criticized by the Obama Administration and the International Court of Justice because Garcia was not informed of the right to contact the Mexican consulate at the time of his arrest. Perry received criticism for failing to stop the execution, but the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled against Garcia.
In another case, that of Cameron Todd Willingham in 2004, convicted of the arson murder of his three children, critics accuse Perry of removing three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission shortly before the commission was to hear a fire expert’s examination of evidence in the fire. Three reports, including the report commissioned by the state, concluded that the evidence did not point to arson.
Perry denied pressuring the investigators and said that the replacements were made because the commissioners’ terms were expiring. He told CNN, “If you've got a whole new investigation going forward, it makes a lot more sense to put the new people in now and let them start the full process, rather than bring people in there for a short period of time and then replace them. I think it makes a whole lot more sense to make a change now than to make a change later."
He also told the Houston Chronicle, “Willingham was a monster. He was a guy who murdered his three children, who tried to beat his wife into an abortion so that he wouldn't have those kids. Person after person has stood up and testified to facts of this case that quite frankly you all aren't covering.”
More recently, Perry has made headlines for his sponsorship of “the Response,” a day of prayer at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The event, which drew some 30,000 attendees as well as Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas and video message by Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, was billed as a call to repentance for the United States.
The event, which drew criticism from separation of church and state activists and a lawsuit from atheists, was open to people of all faiths, although the attendees were predominantly Christian. The gathering was also not a political rally. According to the N.Y. Times, Perry even offered a prayer for President Obama: “Father, we pray for our president, that you impart your wisdom upon him, that you would guard his family.”
Perry also made headlines in April 2011 when he issued a proclamation asking Texans to pray for rain. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue hosted a prayer service in 2007 when Georgia was in the clutches of a similar drought. In 2008, Georgia suffered the worst floods in decades. To date, Texas is still wracked by the drought.
Even though Gov. Perry is not a declared candidate yet, there are reports that he is laying the groundwork for his campaign. Peach Pundit reported in June that he had hired Elizabeth Vaughan as a manager of his Georgia campaign. Vaughan was manager of Gary Black’s successful campaign for Georgia Agriculture Secretary and former member of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign staff. This report was denied by Vaughan.
Nevertheless, Perry did meet with Georgia Republicans in July according to Politico. According to the report, which did not name the attendees, Perry took part in an “extensive question-and-answer session” in which he talked about the economy and his record of job creation in Texas. Reportedly, Perry won over several of the Georgians who were previously undecided.
Even though he has not yet entered the race, Perry is running a close second to Mitt Romney in the most recent Real Clear Politics average of polls. The most recent Public Policy poll of Georgians’ preferences for a Republican candidate was in April and did not include Perry.
Rick Perry’s economic record in Texas makes him a strong contender if he decides to run for president. He has strong conservative credentials that will please the Tea Party, but the idea of another conservative Republican Texas governor will turn off some voters. Fortunately for Perry, most of those voters probably would probably vote for President Obama regardless of who the Republican candidate is. Perry does run the risk of missing the window of opportunity if he waits too long to enter the race, so look for an announcement of his decision soon.
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