DALLAS — Texas Gov. Rick Perry reportedly said today that he intends to run for reelection in 2014, despite a few holes in the story of the “Texas miracle” we heard so much about from the erstwhile presidential candidate.
He earned bragging rights because of the state’s relative economic strength during lean times. Never mind that credit for much of the state’s buoyancy is due to factors – population growth, low housing costs, abundant oil and gas resources – outside Perry’s control.
Have you heard, though, about what Texas’s tax-aversion policies mean to the safety net that’s supposed to protect at-risk children? Sadly, there’s further evidence that it’s been washed away.
First, it should be noted that the United States has the worst child abuse record among industrialized nations, according to a BBC documentary last fall. It found that the child maltreatment death rate in the United States is triple that of Canada and 11 times that of Italy. Millions of children are reported abused and neglected every year.
Leading the pack among the 50 states was Texas, which had the most children killed. In 2010, according to government data, 222 children died at the hands of abusers.
I find this to be an important but often overlooked caveat when people talk about the Texas economic model. The road to our prosperity, such as it is, is lined with the corpses of children who died of abuse.
Just about a year ago, Perry was hosting a delegation of elected California officials in Austin. They’d come seeking insight into the Texas miracle.
This has had a well-documented problem for more than a decade. In 2000, Dallas had the highest turnover rate of child protective services caseworkers in the state at 46 percent, according to TexProtects, an organization created to try to reverse that trend.
Some may say there’s no direct connection between small government and child deaths, often at the hands of a family member. But there’s ample evidence that Texas’s chronically under-funded child protection agency has too few troops to handle its overwhelming caseload. In fact, as recently as last month, caseworkers were still being crammed into motel rooms to pinch hit in cities where their colleagues were stretched dangerously thin.
Still, it’s not popular to mention the havoc that state budget-cutters have caused for Texas’s most vulnerable residents.
Paul Burka, senior executive editor at Texas Monthly, cited former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson’s recent column on the absence of “compassionate conservatism’’ this year, when he wrote the following:
“Rick Perry drove the state Republican party so far to the right that public policy disappeared from the Republican agenda and was replaced by the ideology of cutting government to the bone. The 82nd Legislature devastated the education and health care infrastructure in this state.
“The things that are happening in this state today will bear bitter fruit,” Burka went on. “I don’t like to speak of doom and gloom scenarios because I try not to get too far away from the middle. But there is no middle in Texas politics today. There is only a far right, and it represents the worst of the Texas character – uncaring, unconcerned, uninformed.’’
Today, Burka was first to report that the governor is running again. The governor’s office answered requests for confirmation by saying he will announce his intentions at the appropriate time.
Lori Stahl is a Dallas journalist who writes about politics. Follow her on Twitter at @LoriStahl.