The Rick Perry legacy

Tomorrow, Governor-elect Greg Abbott will take the reigns from Rick Perry and officially become just ‘Governor Abbott.’ For the first time since the Clinton administration, Texas will have a new governor. Indeed, Perry has served in office for more than 14 years, shattering all the old records set by his predecessors.

I’ve been putting off writing about this, because I do not necessarily feel qualified to editorialize about political events that transpired in 2000 or 2001. I was six years old when Perry assumed office, so opining on some of Perry’s first acts would be a lot like my father talking about his experience in observing Dwight Eisenhower or Allan Shivers’ respective tenures in office.

Perry, of course, took office on December 21st, 2000, the day that George W. Bush resigned the governorship in preparation to become president. Perry had served as the Lieutenant Governor since 1999, and previously served two terms as Agriculture Commissioner from 1991 to 1999. He also served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives, from 1985 to 1991, the first two of which as a Democrat.

I’m not going to meticulously go over the ebbs and flows of his time in office, others have done a much better job at that. Rather, I want to examine two ideas about Perry that have always stayed with me from his time in office. Contrary to what some may expect from me, they are actually quite positive.

If this makes sense, Perry is an ideologue –but in a good way. When he first took office, his co-leaders were quite different. The Speaker of the House, Pete Laney, was a Democrat, and the acting Lieutenant Governor, State Senator Bill Ratliff (R-Titus County), was a tremendously moderate Republican who could absolutely not succeed in one of his party’s primaries today (think Nelson Rockefeller, except from East Texas). After the conclusion of the 77th Legislature in 2001, Perry vetoed a record number of bills. Even when compared to Ratliff’s successor, David Dewhurst, Perry was right-wing.

Today, however, Perry is seen as an establishment figure. Bud Kennedy at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram opined that he could run for president as the “anti-Cruz,” a more pragmatic establishment type. Compared to, as of tomorrow, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick or Attorney General Ken Paxton (or even Abbott), Perry is on the moderate side of his party. Obviously, the governor did not tack to the left in an era when so many others zoomed the other way. On the other hand, Perry has a firmly planted set of core beliefs, which does not change because of partisan winds. Love him or hate him, that’s an admirable quality, one that is less and less common in successful politicians.

Second, Perry — at his core — always appears to have all of Texas at heart. Sure, there was the rampant cronyism/corruption. But any even rudimentary student of Texas political history knows that is the rule and not the exception. Unlike Abbott or Patrick, in my opinion, Perry genuinely believed what he was doing would be good for the average Texan (as much as he may have been mistaken in some instances), not the average Republican primary voter.

I have found myself agreeing more and more with the band of Democrats who feel that Perry’s successors will be considerably worse than him, and we will one day covet the comparable pragmatism in the Perry administration. There is certainly some truth in this, but it is important to not get carried away.

Perry pushed through venal so-called “tort reform” that lobotomized much of our court system, including the resurgence of cruddy legal jurisprudence typically only found in Great Britain. He was instrumental in the horrendous gerrymandering scheme that reduced 90%+ of legislative districts to uncompetitive backwaters. More recently, he vigorously pushed the omnibus anti-abortion legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered and he attempted to coerce an unfriendly prosecutor into resigning by threatening (and following through) to veto funding (this is what he was indicted regarding).

Obviously, Texas can’t get much worse off on many fronts, but on others it surely can. Perhaps most horrifying about Abbott and his ilk is that they have no central moral principles, nothing preventing them from grandstanding and demagoguery in the face of an increasingly extreme minority that monopolizes the political process. When they start demanding book burnings or the rescinding of the bill of rights, Perry would have rightly put his foot down. Abbott and Patrick, to the contrary, I’m unsure about.

Adios, mofo. We’ll miss you (sort of).

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Jeb Bush 2016

The New York Times reports that former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) has taken the first decisive step toward running for president in the upcoming 2016 election. Bush created something called a “leadership PAC” that actively explores the possibility of running for president. It is tantamount in all but name to an Exploratory Committee, and few — if any — serious observers contend that there is a realistic chance he would not follow through and run at this time.

Bush, the brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush, is largely seen as the continuation of a quintessential Republican establishment dynasty. While the family may have been, in some circles, considered on the rightward periphery of the party in 2000, times have markedly changed since that time. Specifically, since the advent of the Tea Party, Bush has been lambasted by the base of his own party as insufficiently conservative on immigration-related issues. Earlier this year, he even suggested unauthorized border crossings were an “act of love,” drawing the ire of the right-wing. Bilingual and the husband of a Mexican-immigration (additionally the father of Land Commissioner-elect George P. Bush), Bush is seen as a uniquely formidable Republican opponent for Democratic presidential contenders, namely former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Prompted by Bush, a few other names have clamored to reiterate their longstanding almost-campaigns. The serious politicians who belong in that category include Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Governor Scott Walker (R-WI), among other less glamorous options.

Last month, I prognosticated that Cruz has the best chance of the pack to be nominated, and I reiterate that comment again tonight. Make no mistake, the ultra-conservatives (Tea Party) are in firmer control of the party now than they were four years ago. They have only been enraged over the years as their preferred candidates have been cast aside in favor of comparable-pragmatists, such as John McCain and Mitt Romney, who then fell in the general election. Bush — or Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), for that matter — will be shunned because he will be seen as a continuation of the “play it safe” strategy.

Of course, the success of a presidential candidate has little to do with ideology, because the American public does not care enough to understand said ideology. They care about the charisma and soundbites of the messenger. That is why Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in a way that Gerald Ford likely would not have, even though Reagan was significantly more conservative.

Much in the same respect, Cruz is a phenomenal messenger in a way that none of the other candidates are. Not since Joseph McCarthy have the Republicans had a national figure so comfortable with making things up and completely disregarding the truth without so much as a modicum of shame. The only difference is that the media is so impotent and feckless nowadays that there is no Edward R. Murrow to call him out. Cruz is confident, assured and smart, so the base in his party goes along for the ride, even though I think it is fairly obvious he would sell them out in an instant to further his own interest. When the time comes, I believe, the general public will similarly fall for him.

If the Tea Party is looking for a knight in shining armor, they will be sorely disappointed just about any way. Cruz may be appealing, quoting Cicero and all. But in the end, his most rapid supporters will just be muttering “Et Tu, Theodore?” At least Bush puts his cards on the table.

New 2016 tidbits

During the summer, I wrote up a fairly lengthy analysis of 2016 Presidential candidates, both Democrat and Republican. Since that time, one Democrat — Jim Webb — has unofficially thrown his hat into the ring by forming an exploratory committee, a formality that always precedes an official announcement. Meanwhile, a Republican — Ben Carson — looks all but certain to make some type of official announcement in coming days. Neither, in my opinion, will make much of a difference, but it is fun to analyze them anyways.

First, as The Washington Post reports, former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) looks to be the first major contender. Webb is a ferociously moderate Democrat, the epitome of so-called “blue dog” values. A longtime military officer, his service culminated with him being the Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. He thereafter served one term in the Senate from Virginia, from 2007 to 2013. He declined to stand for re-election because, as he put it, he hated Washington and its dysfunction. Historically, he has also been a somewhat harsh critic of President Barack Obama, both deriding Obamacare and lambasting the president’s general use of executive power.

Now, I’m surely not the most obsequious fan of Obama, notwithstanding my recent adulation. I think, given his horrendous unpopularity, that the Democrats would not be all that misguided to look toward a candidate not afraid of criticizing ‘the anointed one,’ so to speak. I think former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the definitive Democratic (if not general election) frontrunner, is playing a somewhat safe middle ground by not complimenting or criticizing Obama too heavily. From a policy point of view, I don’t find anything wrong with Webb. He almost reminds me of a modern-day Jimmy Carter. But America, politically speaking, has gotten far dumber — and far less open minded –since the days of the the peanut farmer from Georgia. The media crowns winners years in advance now in the dichotomous, “four legs good, two legs bad” dystopia that we currently live in. Even though I would still venture to say that Clinton is the better candidate because of both policy and, especially, general election standing, her political future has been written years in advance as practically an inevitability.

Second, with Bloomberg Politics doing the honors, Ben Carson has all-but-officially-announced his intent to seek the Republican nomination for president. A brilliant surgeon, Carson’s intellectual prowess does not appear to extend to the political arena, where he bumbles from one conspiracy theory to the next. In addition to having no political experience whatsoever, Carson appears more than willing to cater to the lowest common denominator. I believe he recently suggested he would literally live in some type of socialist autocracy by 2016, if my memory serves me right. If he’s campaigning for a seat on a Fox News talk show, right on. But if he’s serious about the presidency, we should insist he move along.

Otherwise, there are plenty of the same Republican names flirting with the issues as there were in the summer. A few new names include Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who does not have much of a base to prop him up. Additionally, although he hasn’t made official comments one way or another, Governor John Kasich (R-OH) is starting to cause more of a buzz. A pragmatic Republican, he has developed a penchant for moderation, and has received a generous pour of positive press since his landslide re-election.

But perhaps the most significant point I wish to discuss tonight is what I feel is the growing momentum around the inevitable campaign of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). All other things being equal, I think he would win a Republican primary held today. Perhaps more importantly, I think he would also defeat Clinton in a general election.

Cruz is brilliant and articulate. Those with little exposure to him generally like what they see, and he would be sure to extend this mindset to the campaign trail. And while, nationally, his identification is generally negative, the vast majority of Americans do not know who he is. If, for example, I walked around West Campus in Austin, the setting of my apartment, and stopped the first 10 people I spotted, I doubt more than five would be aware of the existence of our state’s junior senator. This, at ostensibly the best pubic institution of higher learning in the state. Transport me to a state outside of Texas, and I’d postulate the number drops to three. For most Americans, including most who will vote in the 2016 election, their first exposure to Cruz will be after he would lock up the Republican nomination.

This is where what I call Cruz’s “Obama resemblance” becomes so important. Throughout the summer, I highlighted what I found to be a similarity. While many other pundits have made the Cruz-Obama connection, including my contemporary Erica Greider in Politico, these profiles have all focused on the duo’s lack of experience (less than one full term in the Senate). However, rather than experience, Cruz’s reminiscence to Obama is his cult-like popularity among his party’s base, and how it provides a uniquely strong transition from primary to general election mode for a presidential candidate.

Throughout the 2008 primaries, and even continuing into recent times, Obama has enjoyed almost a messianic popularity among the most diehard Democrats, the ones who vote in all the primaries. I lamented this fact in The Brandeis Justice last year. Similarly, Cruz looks like he is the holy one among Tea Party Republicans, the exact type who will hand him decisive victories in the Iowa Caucuses and South Carolina Primary, both of which will help propel him to victory in the Republican primaries. I have noted many times that Clinton’s weakness in 2008 was her record of centrism on many important issues. Democrats, fed up with perceived moderation in their party, flocked to the charismatic young guy who told them exactly what they wanted to hear; never mind that he was lying. Thus, Obama talked out of both sides of his mouth, appealing to his base with one breath and the general electorate with the other. Expect Cruz to do the same.

And Cruz, more than any Democrat could ever get away with it, sure does love to lie. Take, for example, is recent bout with the Net Neutrality issue. The gist of it is that internet service providers should — as they always have — treat all online data equally; that is, not intentionally slow down specific sites or applications (read: those who do not pay more).  The Oatmeal has a rather good illustration on all this. Cruz has ridiculously claimed that Obama wants to strictly regulate the internet, and even tax it, both of which are just baldfaced lies. But he keeps on lying anyway, and is rather good at it. Given the feckless, impotent nature of the media, people will eventually come to believe him and heed his words.

Democrats will largely be complacent with Clinton atop the ticket. More reassuring, demographics and tradition are on their side. But Cruz will, in what I have to think of as the more likely scenario, win by a squeaker.

Dewhurst for Mayor?

The Houston Chronicle reports that Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, who leaves office this January after a dozen years in office, is thinking about running for Mayor of Houston next year.

“I ain’t riding off into the sunset, ever,” Dewhurst told the Chronicle. “I’m a real believer in the Lord’s will, and He’s got something else He wants me to do, and so I’m pursuing what I think is good for me and good for the state.”

Dewhurst, who was defeated for re-election by Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick earlier this year, must think the third time is the charm. Before being defeated for re-election, he ran for the US Senate in 2012 when Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison retired. Despite being the odds-on favorite for most of the campaign, Ted Cruz won an unexpected, grassroots-based victory over him and succeeded Hutchison in the Senate.

Speaking of next year’s mayoral candidates, another name has popped up since I last profiled the plethora of pretenders to the throne, so to speak. Bill King, the former Mayor of Kemah and a longtime columnist for the Houston Chronicle, is now telling people behind the scenes that he will toss his hat in the ring. King has always been a nice guy with noble ambitions, but many of his Chronicle columns were sometimes just silly. Every single week he would repeat the same trite points about how it was absolutely necessary to gleefully crush public sector pensions or else Houston would turn into Detroit. I tend to agree that something needs to be done in the budgetary department, but the points lose their ripeness the fourth time they are iterated in a month. Additionally, being the Mayor of multiple cities (when they do not merge) just makes me uncomfortable, similar to Scott Brown’s ill-fated run for the Senate in New Hampshire this year.

Back to Dewhurst, I’m not sure how much financial support he could muster, though he is independently wealthy enough to self-finance. Moderate Republicans already have a gaggle of affluent White men competing for their support, and I’m not really convinced that Dewhurst fills any unfilled niche.

And, to bring up the obvious point, Republicans will not likely win the Mayor’s office this next election. Houston is and continues to be a ferociously liberal city. It has not elected a Republican Mayor since the 1970s, and 2015 certainly does not look to be the exception to the rule.

Additionally, though Dewhurst deep down is rather moderate and likely doesn’t care much for social issues, that side of him has been all but eviscerated in two statewide Republican primaries dominated by the Tea Party. The Republicans running for Mayor this year either openly disagree with their party on issues such as gay marriage and abortion, such as City Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), or prioritize other issues, such as City Councilmember Oliver Pennington (R-District G). If Houston doesn’t elect Republicans, we most definitely do not elect socially conservative Republicans. Not in 1985, not today.

Parker subpoenas pastors

On Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle noted that Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman have subpoenaed the sermons of prominent pastors who have been a part of ongoing petition efforts against the local non-discrimination ordinance. The NDO, passed last May, prevents discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and other distinguishing features, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity. Those last two qualities garnered a great deal of controversy both before and after the Houston City Council passed the measure, even prompting a petition drive to force a referendum.

In a still controversial decision, city leaders disqualified most of the signatures provided, saying not enough valid voices signed against the ordinance to compel a referendum. Since then, litigation has been pending and a referendum is still quite possible in the future. I suppose that the city is now trying to cover its behind by proving many of the tactics exhibited by these pastors, who are legally required to remain apolitical, have been unlawful.

On Wednesday, however, Parker distanced herself from the subpoenas, calling them “overly broad” and regretting the incident was handled the way it was. As they likely realized right away, this little bout of theatrics did the Mayor and all supporters of the NDO no favors. In fact, it merely stirred the pot even more, riling up the same group that so vociferously opposed the ordinance and fought it throughout the summer.

National news and opinion sites have been quick to castigate Parker, and she has received 20 bits of negative press for every item of support thus far. Fox News didn’t look too kindly, nor did The Washington Times. Forbes Magazine wrote that the city has “a first amendment problem.” Meanwhile, a columnist for The Washington Post even opined that the whole exercise is a trampling of the first amendment. The whole story is so outrageous at first glance that Snopes.com even ran a feature on it.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, both made big stinks today as well against this decision.

As a matter of law, I don’t know that Parker did anything too egregious. But beyond the shadow of a doubt, as a matter of policy, it was a foolish move on her office’s part. Fire and brimstone clergy, particularly those who all too often bully others, are remarkably talented at feigning victimization. In a place as religious and conservative as Houston, picking a fight with them will always be a losing proposition.

Parker even noted in a press conference today that these are fairly well-famed pastors, with expansive followings both on television and online. The sermons are easily accessible through less intrusive means than a court order. The whole point of this exercise was for show, and in that department, Parker undoubtedly lost. I’m glad she has backed off from this, hopefully it can cause the press to move past it and focus on some real issues. Typically, on Wednesday nights, I recap the events of the Houston City Council from the preceding morning. But the council did nothing of real note today. Everything revolved around press conferences involving this puny anonymity and the Ebola hysteria, respectively.

Rhymes with Right has more, from the other side of the aisle.

Staples to resign, lead TXOGA

The Texas Tribune reports that Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who was slated to leave office in January at the conclusion of his second term, will resign his post early to become the President of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, the statewide trade association of the burgeoning energy industry. Staples, a Republican who has extensive ties to both ranching and the oil industry, reportedly will be in place before the commencement of the 84th Legislature, prompting an exit from his position before the end of his term, at the beginning of next year.

Staples, who has served in both chambers of the Texas Legislature, took office in 2007 and has served for the two terms since. Overall, I would say he was done an adequate job as Agriculture Commissioner, but his tenure still leaves plenty to be desired. A few years ago, he revealed his intention to run for Lieutenant Governor, back when incumbent David Dewhurst was considered a shoe-in to be Texas’ next Senator. Of course, Ted Cruz came out on top in the Senate election, so Dewhurst ended up running for re-election as Lieutenant Governor. Still, Staples (as well as Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson) soldiered on anyways with his candidacy. That primary ended up being one by none of them, but by State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), a late entrant into the campaign. All this is to say that Staples, who has held a six-figure government job for eight years, would be unemployed come January.

In remarks sent out to the press, Staples confirmed that he would be resigning within the next two months, but stayed away from any specific. He’ll likely call it quits in short order after the November election. He insinuated that the Deputy Commissioner, Drew DeBerry, will act as Commissioner in the interim between then and January, when a new Commissioner would have taken over anyways following a regularly scheduled election.

Former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), the Republican nominee, is almost beyond the shadow of a doubt assured victory. He only faces the ghost Jim Hogan as his Democratic opponent, as well as fringe party opposition. While many in the political intelligentsia (including myself) will end up voting for the latter, namely Green nominee Kenneth Kendrick, the general public will be unmoved and Miller will be the new Commissioner undoubtedly come January.

Accordingly, Rocky Palmquist –the Libertarian nominee for the post– opined that Governor Rick Perry would appoint Miller in the interim, a dubious claim that was quickly debunked.

For all my political troubles with Staples, he always struck me as an easygoing and nice guy, and I wish him luck in his future endeavors. Particularly, I always loved that ad of him riding around on a horse, explaining all the duties of the Agriculture Commissioner. All other things being equal, it’s a pretty detailed and accurate picture of what the Agriculture Commissioner does.

Rick Perry, what have we?

The Texas Tribune reports that Governor Rick Perry has created the “Rick PAC,” a political action committee designed to funnel Perry-approved money throughout the country in preparation for this year’s general elections nationwide. Specifically, the group will reportedly focus upon Congressional campaigns around the country. Given the horrendously gerrymandered districts in Texas, I take it that none of his “investments” will be close to home.

No doubt, this is yet another stop in the road to the White House for Rick Perry, who obviously wants to run for President in 2016. My pertinent sources range from “he’s inclined to do so” to “it’s a 100% done deal.” Suffice it to say, it’s safe to assume we will be talking up a Rick Perry 2016 campaign for at least another year, if not longer. I talked up the prospects of Perry’s tentative run last month in my 5 Part series on the 2016 election, but at this point, I think the more relevant conversation is about Perry’s transition out of the Governor’s mansion and beyond.

Perry is indubitably a lame duck at this point in his governorship (Quack! Quack!). The Legislature will not go into session again during his administration, and future leaders such as Senator Ted Cruz and Attorney General Greg Abbott have already taken over the microphone. Perry is at best an afterthought at this point, existing as a mere formality in Texas politics, only breaking the mold to exercise one of his few powers or walk the other way on an issue. Even his great archenemy, UT-Austin President Bill Powers, will outlast him in public office.

Now, Perry will surely combat the descriptor of being hobbled or a mallard of any form. He obviously still sees himself as the marauding, swaggering cowboy with near-omnipotent influence over all of Texas. And, to a certain extent, he still is.

Ross Ramsey at the Texas Tribune opined on Perry’s power earlier this year, when he compared him to former Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullcok in the sheer amount of lemmings he has placed within every nook and cranny of State Government. It will take the better part of a decade for all this positions to come up for reappointment, and even then, bureaucrats have a pernicious penchant for adapting to new circumstances, such as a new Governor. Expect the old “Perry men” to quickly become “Abbott men” if and when the need arises.

But these debates aside, Perry’s de jure and de facto power in Austin will be reduced to zero in roughly five months. For the first time in many years, he will find himself evicted from public housing. Like any adjustment in one’s personal and professional life, the change may be frightening, but it also presents new opportunities. With unwavering alacrity, I am positive that Perry will be up for the challenge, whatever it might be.

In my opinion, Perry will make a major announcement of an “Explanatory Committee to look into a possible candidacy,” an evidently mandatory harbinger of the official Presidential announcement, sometime in March. That leaves a negligible amount of time in between his eviction from Colorado Street and the start of his stump speeches. The missing ingredient had been how to remain relevant between now and then. The “Rick PAC” will certainly be a good place to start.