Is the Bloom Coming Off Rick Perry's Texas Rose?
Latest legislative session leaves conservatives with mixed feelings; is he tacking to the center?
Around the State
As Texas Gov. Rick Perry dips his toe in presidential waters, not all Texas Republicans are getting that tingling feeling up their legs.
Coming off a frustrating legislative session in Austin, restive conservatives say the 10-year governor failed to deliver on several issues they cared about.
Though Texas' economy has revved up with Perry at the wheel -- generating a whopping 36 percent of the nation's new jobs -- tea party groups express increasing concern that the governor has gone wobbly or slipped into auto pilot.
"The 2012-2013 budget was balanced with tax payment speed-ups, accounting gimmicks and an estimated $4.6 billion charge to a 'Medicaid credit card,'" says JoAnn Fleming, of the Texas TEA Party Caucus.
In a shot at Perry, who frequently criticizes the federal government, Fleming asks, "If kicking the can down the road and delaying tough decisions is wrong in Washington, D.C., what makes it right for Texas?"
Other unfinished business remains a burr under the conservatives' saddle. Pay cuts for state officials making $60,000 or more and selected hiring freezes failed to pass. Meantime, dozens of overlapping or duplicative agencies (23 agencies manage natural resources) remain unreformed and unconsolidated.
Then there's the hot-button issue of immigration.
As in Florida, Texas' Republican-controlled Legislature failed to enact an E-Verify law to curb the employment of illegal aliens. Perry's inability to push through even a watered-down bill prohibiting the designation of so-called "sanctuary cities" has tea party and patriot groups fighting mad.
Perry's tarnished border reputation has extended to Florida, where immigration-control advocate George Fuller said, "Any politician who enthusiastically supports a crime bill but ignores legislation to help solve the problem -- such as E-Verify and denial of welfare -- is not interested in doing anything to really end the chaos and anarchy."
"My guess is that Perry would play the same game as George W. Bush did and angle for amnesty," Fuller said.
The toughest skeptics on the right even wonder about Perry's bona fides, recalling that the former cotton farmer and retired Air Force captain was once a Democrat who directed Al Gore's presidential bid in Texas in 1988. Then again, Ronald Reagan used to be a union member.
Perry certainly didn't impress the National Conference of Editorial Writers last year when he addressed the group in Dallas, and refused to take any questions, as is the custom at journalistic gatherings.
NCEW member Paul Choiniere also noted that Perry declined to sit down with any of Texas' newspaper editorial boards during his most recent re-election run.
"My lasting impression from Perry's appearance was not a good one," said Choiniere, who writes for The Day in Connecticut.
Perry's negatives are nowhere near Florida Gov. Rick Scott's, but the Texas governor's cozy relationship with the state's business titans raises suspicions that he is bought and paid for by cheap-labor advocates like Houston homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation). Last year, Perry gave $2.5 million to the governor.
The governor's increasingly frequent out-of-state trips aren't necessarily playing well at home, either.
During one recent three-week period, the 61-year-old Perry jetted off to California twice to press the flesh and raise money for his possible presidential bid. That's triggered potshots from the right and left.
SIZING UP THE GOVERNOR'S CHANCES IN FLORIDA
With the Iowa straw poll barely a month away, the clock is ticking, and California political consultant Bob Schuman has been spending time in the Hawkeye State, talking with GOP leaders to assess how Perry could play there.
"The one message that I'm getting is that it's wide-open up here," Schuman told the Austin American-Statesman.
Perry is scheduled to speak in South Carolina on the day of the straw poll, but his peripatetic itinerary precludes him from flying to Iowa that day, as well.
Schuman, who said he has no contact with Perry's spokesman or political consultant, has started a 527 organization to raise money and told Fox News, without mentioning numbers, that fundraising in California and elsewhere has gone well.
The 527 group, Americans for Rick Perry, aims to raise $500,000 by Aug. 1, with $5 million more to follow.
Quoting sources, Politico reported that Craig Schoenfeld, a veteran Iowa strategist and former Newt Gingrich campaign adviser, has been brought on board and has started discussions with others about six-week contracts -- meaning the duration of the lead-up to the Ames poll.
Until and unless he announces his candidacy, it's unlikely that Perry would commit to Florida's Presidency 5 summit in Orlando Sept. 22-24. But with CPAC holding a meeting nearby and Fox News cameras on hand, an appearance by Perry cannot be counted out.
With Mississippi's Haley Barbour out of the running and Georgia's Gingrich and Herman Cain mired in the polls, Perry and fellow Texan Ron Paul are geographically closest to the Sunshine State. Of the current Republican field, Perry -- who has garnered recent support from Christian Right groups nationally -- might also be philosophically closest to Florida's rural GOP base.
One long-time state GOP strategist, speaking on background, said, "I think he'd do well [in Florida]. Many conservatives admire his forthright style and what he's accomplished in attracting jobs to Texas."
Robin Stublen, a tea party leader from Charlotte County, predicted Perry "will have an impact in Florida."
"He has some issues concerning his immigration stance, but I don't think that will hurt him much. If he announces before P5 and Mitt Romney does not attend, he has a good shot of winning," Stublen said.
Seth McKee, a political science professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, doesn't think Perry will join the race. "It's nice to be a governor for so long in a state without term limits," he said.
"If he were to run, then how well he does in Florida is contingent upon his performances in earlier contests. If he doesn't take off in the early stages, he would be old news by the time of the Florida primary," McKee said.
Overall, McKee believes Perry is "perhaps a bit too far to the right for a lot of Florida GOP voters."
"He would need to tone down some of his holier-than-thou rhetoric and push the jobs/economy angle, which, of course, is the most important issue for Florida voters."
TEXAS AGENDA: SHORT-TERM GAIN, LONG-TERM PAIN?
From a strictly economic standpoint, Texas has been one of America's biggest success stories of the past decade, and that works in Perry's favor.
Scott has gone so far as to say that he uses the Lone Star State as a metric by which to measure the Sunshine State's economic revival.
Yet, beneath the gaudy statistics, an undercurrent of middle-class anxiety is rumbling across Texas. Rapid population growth and cheap labor -- both of which Texas has in copious quantities -- have a way of raising costs, degrading the environment and expanding the size and reach of government in the long run.
"Texas taxpayers cannot afford to be a social safety net for all who want to come here illegally to access taxpayer-funded services. These services and jobs should go to citizens and legal immigrants -- period," Fleming says.
Grass-roots conservatives have sharpened their critique of Perry for approving $25 million for Formula One Race track funding for a billionaire promoter and special interests in Austin.
"The state of Texas has no business serving as an investment banker or venture capitalist for entertainment venues," Fleming said. "Leveraging tax dollars for private special interests is not a core constitutional responsibility of state government. It’s just plain wrong."
Waco tea party activist Toby Marie Walker cuts Perry some slack, blaming the Legislature, not the governor, for a "weird" legislative session.
"He's a very good governor and he would be a good choice for president," Waker said.
Texas Democrats, meantime, are chipping away at Perry's image, criticizing his support of voter ID legislation and a bill requiring sonograms before abortions.
"We would aggressively work to defeat him, of course," Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I think the sonogram legislation is yet another example of a politician interfering with women's health care."
But for now, Republicans are Perry's chief concern, and strategists say he is in a good position to run -- even if he hasn't enthralled the right-wing base this year.
"I think the question is becoming why wouldn't he get in this race," conservative strategist Keith Appell, senior vice president for CRC Public Relations of Alexandria, Va., was quoted as telling the Fort Worth newspaper.
"I think it's a center-right country to begin with, as demonstrated with the rise of the Tea Party. If the economy stays the same or gets worse by this time next year, Daffy Duck could beat Barack Obama."
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 801-5341.