Five whole days have passed since Texas Governor Rick Perry announced his entry into the battle royal to become the next Republican nominee for president. The media has been engaged in an all out effort to figure out just who he is and what his entry into the race means, as seen here, here, and here. Perry is, it seems, the political flavor of the week. The media's new toy is a giant plushy in the shape of Governor Perry.
But the real question is, just who is Rick Perry? What do we know about him? How conservative is he? Does he still think Texas ought to consider seceding from the union? The governor has certainly been busy tossing red meat out to movement conservatives to bolster his credentials, as seen by claiming that 'a substantial number' of climate scientists have manipulated their data to ensure government funding, or by holding a prayer rally in Houston (is he governor or a pastor?), or backtracking on his remark that New York's legalization of gay marriage is "fine with me." Pavlov's dogs are salivating.
Some are asking whether Governor Perry is electable while the first national poll shows him with a comfortable lead of second place contender, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. I can't vouch for the polls methodology but Rasmussen is usually semi-reliable. Of course, at this time four years ago Rudy Giuliani was leading in all the national polls and he never quite made it out of his Florida rocking chair. What has Perry done to deserve all this attention? Is he really the savior of the GOP? Let's take a look.
First, Rick Perry was launched into national stature by the election of George W. Bush as president in 2000. Perry was Bush's Lieutenant Governor beginning in 1999. Prior to that Perry served in the Texas House and as Agricultural Commissioner. Perry is rather unique among modern politicians in that he has never lost an election. In his first run for governor in 2002 Perry received nearly 58% of the vote in cruising to an easy victory. Four years later, however, when facing three challengers, Perry's share of the vote dropped to just over 39% as he received over 1 million fewer votes than in 2002. In 2010, he easily vanquished a gubernatorial primary challenge by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, though combined his GOP challengers managed to pick up 48.9% of the primary vote. He sailed to victory in November over Houston Mayor Bill White by a 54% to 42% margin. The sad fact, however, is that fewer than 1 in 3 eligible voters in Texas even bothered to cast a ballot meaning that Perry was elected to a 3rd term by about 1/6th of Texas voting eligible population (Texas has the lowest voter turnout rate in the US).
Second, Mr. Perry has made his case that he ought to be the Republican nominee for president (and the next president) based upon his so-called 'Texas Miracle', a reference to the fact that nearly 40% of the new jobs created in the United States since the beginning of the Great Recession have been created in Texas. Perry attributes this to his pro-growth policies such as low taxes and less regulation of business. What Perry doesn't say is that much of that growth has occurred because Texas population has been growing faster than almost every other state as Americans migrate from chilly northern climates to the sun belt in record numbers, as evidence by the results of the 2010 census. He also doesn't talk about the fact that Texas unemployment rate is 8.2%, currently 25th worst in the nation, and trails such anti-growth states such as Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York. Governor Perry also doesn't want to talk about the fact that 1/3 of all the new jobs in Texas are government jobs, or that he balanced his state's budget the last four years largely because of $17 billion in 'failed' stimulus funds provided by President Obama. He doesn't want to talk about the fact that Texas is tied with Mississippi for the highest percentage of the work force earning minimum wage or that Texas just balanced its budget by cutting $4 billion from education in a state that trails the nation in education quality already. This has prompted some, such as Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, to proclaim Rick perry's Texas as an 'unmiracle.'
So the question becomes one of who's right? Is Texas the unbridled economic miracle that Governor Perry claims or is it the disaster that his critics contend it is? Will 'President Perry' do for America what he has done for Texas? Do we even want him to try? Time will tell.