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Right Turn
Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 08/19/2011

Vetting presidential candidates

Peter Wehner writes at Commentary: “My comments critical of what Texas Governor Rick Perry said about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have sparked a number of stories that the ‘Bushies’ are lining up against Governor Perry based on some intra-Texas feud. For what it’s worth, I’ve never met Governor Perry and have nothing against him. I’m impressed with his governing record and his skills as a retail politician (though I will confess that I haven’t followed his career closely). And I didn’t coordinate my comments with anyone, including any former Bush aides.”

Peter is not alone. Most every criticism and less-than-rosy account of Texas Gov. Rick Perry is greeted in certain Republican circles (be it on blogs, Twitter or cable TV) as evidence of a Bushian plot or the revenge of the “establishment.” It’s a convenient way, of course, of avoiding serious debate on the merits of his record and his strengths and weaknesses.

One of the most over-caffeinated of his supporters opines, “For all the talk of Perry being an establishment guy, the establishment hates his guts as much as the left does. That’s one reason the base finds him so endearing. . . . The GOP wants to convince Republican primary voters that Perry is too radioactive to be able to take on Obama. The Democrats want to play off that and scare the mess out of swing voters.” Got that?

No, don’t try. Perry is going through the same process that every candidate must endure and should endure if he or she is going to run for high office. The issues raised by mainstream and conservative media outlets — how good is his jobs record, does he have a crony problem, where is he on immigration, why did he order and then apologize for mandatory HPV vaccinations for schoolgirls, does his 10th Amendment stance make sense — are the types of queries that are entirely relevant to determining his fitness and qualifications for the presidency.

Moreover, the notion that he has already been vetted is poppycock. Remarkably little is known about him outside Texas. And even inside Texas long-running issues have never been fully addressed. Jay Root, a veteran Texas reporter, has delved into Perry’s finances (“thanks to his investments and a series of private land deals, some that took advantage of his political connections, Perry has squeaked over the millionaire line”). In 2010, Root went through some of Perry’s transactions:

Perry once sold a 9.3-acre tract to computer magnate Michael Dell for nearly four times what he paid for it, with influential Texas lobbyist Mike Toomey representing Perry at the sale. The west Austin property sold for $465,000 in 1995 and gave the Dell estate badly needed access to an adjacent municipal sewage district.
A little more than a year later, Perry snapped up 60 acres southwest of Austin, after acting on a tip from flamboyant developer Gary Bradley, whose real estate empire fell into bankruptcy in 2002. The property was sold two and a half years later at a $239,000 profit. Perry has also bought and sold houses and raw land for various gains since he won statewide office in 1990.
“He just manages to fall into these deals over the years,” said Houston accountant Bob Martin, who helped analyze 18 years’ worth of Perry’s tax returns for the AP. “It looks like his net worth increased while he was in office, in the relative scheme of things, on a small salary.” Perry made about $85,000 a year as agriculture commissioner and currently draws $150,000 annually as governor, but as a legislator and lieutenant governor, he was making a part-time salary of just $7,200.

This year Root did another extensive report, finding:

Michael Dell, the computer magnate, once bought a piece of property from Perry — for almost four times what he paid two years earlier. In 2001, the governor bought a piece of lakefront property from his longtime friend, state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay. Perry sold it six years later for a profit of $823,766, his biggest real estate gain ever, according to available records.
Over the years, both Republican and Democratic critics have used the land deals — and at least one stock trade involving the company of a top donor — to suggest that Perry has traded on his connections to make money. But no one has found any wrongdoing, and Perry has said that all of his deals were above board. In 1996, Perry put much of his wealth into blind trusts, making it almost impossible to tell what he owns now.

In addition to these lucrative land deals, “Perry reported a profit of $38,000 in 1996 after selling shares of Kinetic Concepts Inc., a hospital equipment company founded by one of Perry’s most generous donors, James Leininger of San Antonio, the school voucher proponent.”

When Root last looked at these issues, the governor’s office did not provide Perry’s latest tax return or the 2010 market value of his blind trusts. All of this, just like every aspect of Perry’s record, should be examined. If he refuses to open his books, as he has attempted to do with his travel records, voters can take that into account.

Raising these concerns is not part of an “establishment plot,” and primaries aren’t coronations. Republicans should welcome the opportunity to vet their potential nominees; if they don’t do it, the Obama campaign team certainly will.

By  |  10:30 AM ET, 08/19/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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