Gov. Rick Perry's dream: Make the federal government as innocuous as possible
The nation's governors are in Washington for the National Governors' Association meeting. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, head of the Republican Governors' Association, sat down with a small group of bloggers to talk about his accomplishments and his view of federalism.
In a small conference room at a D.C. hotel he opens up his laptop, telling the group he's been tweeting words of support for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. He's got nothing but praise for Walker. "We just got an audio message from Scott," he explains. Perry observes that "the unions are spending a huge amount of money to denigrate him and build up the union brand," but that Walker and other governors "should be allowed to make decisions that best suit their states." He calls the state senators who've walked off the job "juvenile" and "immature." He says, "You have fourteen senators who have walked away from their responsibilities. Listen, I understand in fighting for what you believe in, but in the end we vote." He analogizes the walkout to a kid going home with his basketball when he thinks he can't win the game. He warns that "if this is the only way they are going to be able to succeed, running out of the legislature," the voters will not look upon them kindly. As for Walker, Perry says, "This young man has only been on the job 60 days." He said he can scarcely "imagine a very young governor" under all that pressure, but he thinks Walker has "handled it magnificently." As for the Democrats and their union allies, Perry observes, "obviously the status quo is not working."
For the remainder of the time Perry speaks passionately about his state and his firm belief in the 10th Amendment. I ask him what accounts for the difference in economic performance between Texas and California, both large Sunbelt states and both with large illegal immigration problems. He responds, "It's about taxation. It's about regulation. It's about a legal system. It's funding an accountable school system." He adds that Texas doesn't have a personal income tax while California has "an onerous one." He notes that Illinois just raised its income tax 66 percent. "So we will be reaching out" to lure Illinois businesses, he says, just as he did with Washington state businesses.
Still, he comes back to his passion for federalism, explaining that he would vigorously defend "California's right to make its own decisions. It "gets down to the core of the Tenth Amendment," he says. He doesn't want the federal government "creating 50 mini-me's."
That Tenth Amendment perspective guides his views on most topics, even when the outcome conflicts with core conservative positions. "I sat with [Maryland's Democratic Gov.] Martin O'Malley. He raised taxes and increased regulation and was all for taking stimulus dollars." Perry says, "I respect that right, but don't force it on me." He continues, "Here's a great juxtaposition. Martin is deciding in his state if men can marry men. I don't agree with that, but listen, if the governor of Maryland wants to stand up and say that, then that's okay."
The respect for state control also governs his views on tort reform. Perry says, "I don't want national tort reform." He explains that Texas passed its own stringent tort reform and now is a "haven" for doctors. He explains that "26,000 doctors have applied [to practice] since we passed tort reform in 2003." He says, "I bet you dollars to donuts that if Congress passed tort reform it would be weaker than what we have in Texas."
It's for this reason that he says he's not running for president. Perry says, "I am a true believer that the Tenth Amendment is being disregarded." He continues, "I'm impassioned about states competing against each other." He wants the federal government to be "as inconsequential as possible." He says with admiration that when he met New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, she said, "I'm going to steal your jobs!" Perry exclaims, "Now, you're talking." He thinks states are where the action is and says he wants to keep Texas as the "most successful state." He says he therefore is "going to work on making the federal government as innocuous as possible."
This includes suing the federal government to repeal ObamaCare and to limit EPA's regulation of Texas emissions. On education he says, "I'm not only against Race to the Top. I'm against No Child Left Behind." He doesn't see how a "one-size fits all" education policy is going to meet each state's needs. He asks rhetorically how "Washington D.C.,1,500 miles away from us" is going to direct all the Texas schools.
This doesn't mean he wants the federal government to do nothing. In fact, if the federal government, in his view, would stop "meddling" in the states' businesses it would be able to fulfill its core responsibilities. "We'd love to have the federal government more involved in defending our borders," he says. And he likewise reasons that once the federal government stopped "doing too many things" it could focus on "building relations internationally."
He's also distressed by the federal government's approach to energy. He says this and past administrations have gotten energy policy wrong. He tells the group that with new technology, domestic oil and gas production is an "ever-changing landscape" and that we are able to explore "huge new reserves" of oil and gas. He rattles off a list of new fields. He explains, "I share those with you to say that the U.S. has oil and gas reserves to take us years in the future without being held captive by these countries that don't like us at all." He contends that "this administration is limiting our options," and that a ban on deep-sea drilling was "absolutely NOT" the right decision. He cautions, "Oil is $100 a barrel today, but that's today. It could go to $200 or $300." He's in favor of the full array of energy sources, saying he's an "all of the above guy." The exception, he says, is corn-based ethanol, which he contends is a rip-off.
Perry is an accomplished, experienced governor who is driven by conservative principles. But those principles lead to him to think of federal public policy purely in the negative. It's hard to conceive of a campaign in which opponents have many ideas and Perry's response would be for the federal government to "stop meddling." His disavowal of interest in the presidency, therefore, seems entirely logical as well as heartfelt. Still, he remains a very successful chief executive and a force within the party. If not the king, perhaps he can be a kingmaker in 2012.
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