To me Rick Perry will always be the guy who screwed up my book deal.
Many will focus on his longevity in the Governor’s Mansion and his rejection of Texas’ bipartisan tradition. And it’s going to be hard to write Perry’s political eulogy without mentioning his penchant for malapropisms. “Oops,” anyone? Heck, I used one of his quips of the tongue as the title for the book I cowrote with Jim Moore, “Adios, Mofo: Why Rick Perry Will Make America Miss George W. Bush.”
The theory behind the book project was that Perry was everything Republicans needed in 2012: a Reagan for a new millennium, palatable to the business community, the Tea Party yahoos, the gun nuts, and all the folks who want to rewrite history books to include the part where Jesus rode a dinosaur to his taxpayer-funded parochial school. He was the perfect man for an imperfect party. All he had to do was walk and chew gum at the same time.
It wasn’t a perfect plan.
When he tanked in the polls, our publisher dropped the book. The shame is that I believe that book contained the kernel of a real idea: Rick Perry has succeeded as Texas Governor because he ignored the constitutional limitations of the office. No one had to die to make Perry king of Texas.
And as it turns out, Perry kinda-sorta agrees with me. The most common note struck by his eulogies is that he presided over the “Texas Miracle,” a long economic expansion born of low taxes and loose regulation.
“It’s not a miracle,” Perry said in a recent interview with The Houston Chronicle. “Those who use the word ‘miracle’ are misinformed. I can’t explain a miracle. I can explain this. This is a Texas model.”
Of course Perry wouldn’t think it’s a miracle. A miracle implies divine intervention, and not even Perry sees himself as a deity. A miracle is something that you can’t engineer yourself. Nope, Perry thinks he did this himself.
First of all, let’s get something straight: Texas was never Taxachusetts. Perry didn’t turn Texas into a low-tax, low-regulation state. Let’s get real. Texas led the country in job growth under Ann Richards, too. And it’s not like homeowners are thrilled about their low property taxes. All Perry really did was shift some business taxes to homeowners and call it a win.
But the genius-and it truly is a genius-of Perry is that he imagined that he was in charge of everything and seemed to convince everyone to go along with it. The axiom is that the Texas Constitution does not give many powers to the Governor’s Office.
Perry didn’t care. He dictated budget terms to a supposedly co-equal branch of government. He privatized state government billions of dollars at a time. He turned Texas schools into testing centers. He vetoed bills like a capricious king.
The business lobby became a de-facto extension of the governor’s office because his former staffers were stacked out there like cordwood. Many of these former Perry staffers remained loyal to the Governor even as they represented corporate clients, flipping the usual dynamic in which a politician seeks to curry favor from business interests.
Because Perry had friends on both sides of every business fight, he wielded extraordinary power to decide who got what. The rules? Rules were for other people. Perry treated his economic development funds like petty cash, and if it all wasn’t quite illegal, few argued that it wasn’t quite right, either.
Except then someone did, and people seemed sincerely shocked that a special prosecutor found gambling inside a casino. Perry might have enough escape velocity at the end of his last term as Governor to end up in the White House, but he could still end up in prison for thinking he was in charge of picking an acceptable prosecutor for the voters of Travis County.
Regardless, we won’t have Perry to kick us around anymore. Four years later, Perry has become a far more interesting character than the swaggering frontrunner of 2012, and he deserves a better writer than I.
Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford