by Bob Eschliman
As an uncommitted voter in the Republican primary/caucus process, I’ve taken my responsibility as an Iowan seriously — probably more seriously than several of the presidential candidates, but I digress. I’ve been trying to vet the candidates, and unfortunately, I find many of the candidates offered on the GOP slate lacking. But, I know I’m not alone. Most Iowa Republicans seem disenfranchised with the 2012 crop. It’s easy to bash on the media-appointed frontrunner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. His actions speak far louder than his rhetoric: he’s in favor of “partnership agreements” for homosexual couples — gay marriage, just by another name — and his “RomneyCare” program — by which “ObamaCare” was modeled — allows $50 copays for taxpayer-subsidized abortions.
But, Romney wasn’t the only candidate to find himself the darling of the national mainstream media. Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign has been driven largely by media pressure and, apparently, some healthy prodding from his wife, Anita. And, for the couple of weeks, Perry found himself immediately at the front of the pack. But, after some lackluster debate performances, and revelations that he supported in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens through the Texas DREAM Act, and issued an executive order that required young girls to get Gardasil vaccinations for the human papilloma virus (now referred to by his critics as “Gardasil-gate”), he quickly fizzled.
But, the third-quarter financial reports provided Gov. Perry with a much-needed lifeline. Suddenly, the media was reporting how Iowans were giving the former frontrunner a fresh look. Even my good friend, Jen Green, acknowledged Perry could possibly find a way beyond the Texas DREAM Act and Gardasil-gate troubles. Her boss, conservative talk show host Steve Deace, suggested perhaps the two major controversies surrounding the Perry campaign had run out of impact. He wondered aloud during a broadcast last week if there were any other red flags fluttering in the breeze.
And, indeed, there are.
In July, as Gov. Perry was still flirting with a potential presidential run, Laylan Copelin of the Austin American-Statesman asked the question, “Should Perry get the credit for Texas’ growth?” Her breakdown of job growth in Texas seems to knock almost all of the shine off Perry’s bragging about his state’s economy.
…(A)lmost half of the state’s job growth the past two years was led by education, health care and government, the sectors of the economy that will now take a hit as federal stimulus money runs out and the Legislature’s 8 percent cut in state spending translates into thousands of layoffs among state workers and teachers in the coming weeks.
Also, Texas is tied with Mississippi as the nation’s leaders in minimum wage jobs. And conservatives argue that Texas can do more to lower its tax burden on businesses, which is higher than the national average and states such as California and Massachusetts that have a personal income tax…Construction, manufacturing and information sectors lost jobs overall. Education and health services led in job creation (32 percent of all jobs added), followed by professional and business services (23 percent), petroleum (18 percent) and government (12 percent). Other industry sectors, ranging from utilities to hospitality, had smaller job gains…
Copelin’s article went on to ask economists if Gov. Perry was the root cause of Texas’ economic success. Their responses — even among those willing to give him the most credit — were lukewarm, at best. Texas was the last state to allow homeowners to tap into their equity, and even then it came with numerous protections for both lenders and homeowners. The state also benefits from an economy that relies heavily on the energy markets, and its residents benefit from low taxes and an overall low cost of living. But, the Lone Star State also has the highest percentage of its population — tied with Mississippi — earning at or below the federal minimum wage. In fact, its total number of employees making no more than minimum wage was more than California, Florida, and Illinois — combined.
For the “it’s the economy, stupid” wing of the Republican Party, those aren’t facts you likely throw around at campaign appearances. But, there’s more. Gov. Perry has touted himself as a champion of the Tenth Amendment, that the federal government just needs to butt out of the affairs of the states. But, when Washington handed out stimulus money to help states shore up their budget gaps, Texas ponied up — big time. According to Tami Luhby of CNNMoney, Texas was the most dependent state on federal stimulus money in 2009 and 2010. So much so, the state plugged 97 percent of its budget deficit with one-time money from Washington.
Texas, which crafts a budget every two years, was facing a $6.6 billion shortfall for its 2010-2011 fiscal years. It plugged nearly all of that deficit with $6.4 billion in Recovery Act money, allowing it to leave its $9.1 billion rainy day fund untouched. “Stimulus was very helpful in getting them through the last few years,” said Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies for the National Association of State Budget Officers, said of Texas. Even as Perry requested the Recovery Act money, he railed against it. On the very same day he asked for the funds, he set up a petition titled “No Government Bailouts.” “Join our fight and add your voice to a growing list of several thousand Americans who are fed up with this irresponsible spending that threatens our future,” Perry wrote on his blog on Feb. 18, 2009.
In Iowa, for instance, the entire one-year state budget is $6.3 billion in the next fiscal year. But, in Texas, the idea of using one-time stimulus money was about as effective as it was in The Hawkeye State — legislators have been left looking for ways to balance the states’ budget without it, now. In January, the Texas State Legislature began working on an austerity budget based on $15 billion in less revenue, including more than $7.5 billion in federal money for Medicare and education. Legislators were tasked with finding $31 billion in spending cuts, including deep cuts in healthcare and education — chopping away almost all of the job gains Gov. Perry has been touting.
Meanwhile, the state’s “rainy day fund” has only grown to $9.4 billion, which even if fully depleted will only cover less than a third of the budget gap. Schools will close, teachers will lose jobs, and the poor will find it more difficult to get healthcare. Not exactly the kind of stuff you talk about when trying to attract middle-of-the-roaders on the campaign trail. But, there’s even more. After all, middle-of-the-roaders aren’t the most likely voters in a caucus state, such as first-in-the-nation (for now?) Iowa. The base shows up for the caucus, meaning you have to appeal to true-blooded conservatives to have a shot. So, where would Gov. Perry stand on one of the biggest issues for “original” Tea Party members: the NAFTA Superhighway. Or, if you like, we can call it by its official name, the North American Supercorridor COalition (NASCO) Corridor.
A key component of the NASCO Corridor, if you’ve listened at all to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) on the campaign trail, is the Trans-Texas Corridor. And, Gov. Perry’s involvement in the project is so deep, it prompted TownHall.com’s Rachel Alexander to call it “Rick Perry’s NAFTA Superhighway Problem.” Perry’s campaign website lists the Trans-Texas Corridor as one of his accomplishments, “Rather than taking decades to expand these important corridors a little bit at a time, Governor Perry developed the Trans-Texas Corridor plan.” But is it something Perry really wants broadcast as an achievement? The Texas Republican Party’s 2010 platform includes a plank specifically opposing the Trans-Texas Corridor. Some of the opposition to the NAFTA Superhighway has been dismissed as conspiratorial, but loud objections also came from people concerned with border security and one million rural interests and farmers that stood to lose their land to eminent domain.
According to Alexander’s report, Perry received campaign contributions from the company that constructed the Trans-Texas Corridor, as well as the Spanish-owned company that retained ownership of the roadway and collected the tolls from it. Where have we heard of Gov. Perry doing that before? Alexander sums it up this way:
Unlike Romney, Perry has not completely disavowed his controversial history as governor. Romney distanced himself from Mass-Care by promising that the first Executive Order he would sign upon becoming president would be a waiver to all 50 states from Obamacare. Perry, on the other hand, proudly lists Trans-Texas Corridor as one of his accomplishments on his website. The state of Texas, multiple factions within the Republican Party, and significant numbers of Democrats oppose the Trans-Texas Corridor. They are not going to sit back and risk repeating an “accomplishment” like this on a national scale.
So, perhaps it’s not just a “NAFTA Superhighway problem” for Rick Perry. Maybe, it’s a Rick Perry problem for America.
Bob Eschliman is Publisher of the Clarinda-Herald Journal. He is an Iowa journalist who has been covering politics and government for more than a decade. He is the founder of the Ben Franklin Journalism blog, which promotes citizen journalism.