On the surface, being the governor of the largest red state with a record of creating more jobs than any other would seem like a huge asset. In some ways it certainly is. Gov. Rick Perry likely wouldn’t have been urged to run if he were governor, of say, Nevada. And he certainly wouldn’t have had such a reservoir of large donors without 10 years in the governor’s mansion. But Texas has also turned into a major liability, or rather, Texas-style politics have become a liability for the struggling Perry.
For starters, Perry learned to ignore or stiff the press back home. As Jon Ward and Michael Calderone report, this doesn’t work well on a national campaign:
Perry has done only two other interviews with national, nonpartisan publications. Last month, he sat down once again with Halperin — alongside Time managing editor Rick Stengel — and did a phone interview with USA Today’s Susan Page.
Perry has also proven media-shy when it comes to the major television networks. So far, he’s skipped the Sunday morning chat shows — a mainstay in presidential politics — in favor of talking with Sean Hannity, a Fox News host sympathetic to conservatives, and with Carl Cameron, Fox’s veteran campaign reporter. Perry did one interview with CNBC, but has avoided the major cable networks MSNBC and CNN.
Reporters told The Huffington Post that the campaign is often unresponsive to their questions. Some said they’ve had trouble even getting on the Perry campaign’s press lists. Reporters following Perry on the trail have been rankled by the campaign’s unwillingness to release its schedule far enough in advance to allow them to reach events
My own experience is that the Perry camp usually does respond, but that it is the least proactive of any of the campaigns. They don’t conduct press conference calls and don’t provide lots of background information.The goal seems to be to say as little as possible. That defensive strategy is fine for an incumbent governor, but other campaigns make their candidates, experts and data available to help get their message out.
Perry is also hurt by the cronyism charge. It might be business as usual in Texas to appoint hundreds and hundred of donors to plum jobs or to dole out big technology grants to supporters, but on the national stage that smacks of crony capitalism and favoritism. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was hitting that theme Thursday:
Rick Perry brags that Texas has created more than 1 million jobs during his 10 years as governor, trumpeting the state’s hands-off regulatory climate and business-first policies. But another part of his jobs agenda, the part that promotes investing state money in private companies, is drawing new criticism as he runs for the Republican presidential nomination.
Rival Michele Bachmann recently likened one of the deals subsidized by the Texas Enterprise Fund to Solyndra, the California energy company that went bust after receiving a $528 million loan from the federal stimulus program.
Perry’s state fund “gave $35 million and a grant to a private company and there were donors in that private company,” Bachmann said, referring to Perry campaign contributors. Though the company promised to create jobs, “they didn’t create any,” she said.
The criticism lays bare a larger battle among conservatives about whether the government should let the free market reign or use public money to boost jobs. More specifically, the deal Bachmann attacked illustrates the murky complexities of private ventures that not only involve risk but also donations to political campaigns.
This not only creates an ethics problem, it also dims Perry’s luster as a Tea Party-type candidate and free-market job creator. It’s actually hard to figure out (other than the patronage system) why Texas hands out so much cash. As we know, it has minimal regulations, no income tax and tort reform. So why the need to throw money at the feet of business? In some cases, the grants are based on promises that simply aren’t or can’t be kept. I asked the governor’s office about two grants,one to Countrywide and another to Washington Mutual that were mentioned in this Associated Press story.
According to spokeswoman Catherine Frazier, Countrywide promised to create 7,000 jobs. At one point, 3,800 were created. But of course Countrywide went belly up, and it is not clear whether any jobs remained. The state got back half of the grant money. But millions in state taxpayer money was wasted. As for Washington Mutual, that company promised 9,000 jobs. Only 3,800 have been created, but the contract is still in progress, so no money has been recovered.
As the AP noted, “Countrywide pledged to create thousands of new jobs, but later shed more than that in nationwide layoffs. That came as Countrywide and WaMu gave checks to Perry’s re-election campaign, including $2,500 from WaMu’s political action committee as late as March 2008. The companies gave more than $15,000 in total contributions, state records show.” I asked about conflict of ethics regulations and why the governor should be allowed to sign off on deals in which the recipients provide something of financial value to him. Frazier said these things “have nothing to do with anything” and said the grants go through an 11-step approval process. Multiple messages to state officials to get details on these procedures were not returned.
In addition, Texas isn’t exactly a microcosm of D.C. Its legislature meets for a few months every other year. Republicans control the legislature. Even the Democrats are conservative. Does this prepare Perry to deal with the likes of Harry Reid and the army of special-interest group pleaders? It might be nice for the federal government to be more like Texas, but in order to get from where it is to conservative nirvana, there’s going to be a lot of fights and compromises. Is this in Perry’s tool box of skills?
Finally, Perry avoided debates and public policy discussions in Texas. He thinks his “record” speaks for itself. But it doesn’t. How much was his doing, and is his Texas record ( 25 percent uninsured) where he wants to take the rest of the country? We do have a federal income tax, so what should we do about it?
Texas is a big state with a solid economic record. But for Perry it’s a bit of a trap and has made him seem like a provincial pol rather than a serious presidential candidate. Can he grow beyond Texas? Does he even want to?