Here we go again. Pointing to a conservative study, Gov. Rick Perry proclaimed, “The discussion’s over. The debate’s over. The proof is in. Texas wins.” And who did we beat? California, of course. It’s enough to make you wonder if little Ricky got enough love growing up on the dirt farm. Someone get this kid a 4-H ribbon so the grownups can talk, because we’ve got some work to do.
How about just once we skipped the provincial chest thumping? Yes, Texas, you’re doing fine. The barbecue is the best we’ve ever had, I promise. Oh yes, that’s quite a lot of jobs, yessir. No one could argue that Perry has not created a low-tax, low-regulation utopia for the wealthy and incorporated.
So why is Perry still arguing this point? Does he really need this much validation? I have no idea what it feels like to trip over my own rainbows live on national television, but why isn’t the love of a good woman, the laurels from business magazines, and the grudging thanks of employed Texans enough to heal his injured ego?
Most assume Perry’s jet setting jobs tour is prelude to another presidential campaign, though “I’m right, you’re wrong” seems a strange message to deliver to voters in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri and New York. His compulsion to impose his superiority over other states comes across as defensive and insecure. Everything is bigger in Texas, including, it seems, our unmet emotional needs.
If Perry were secure in his legacy, then he’d stick with the economic argument. Instead, Perry tells extravagant lies. In January, Perry claimed that the “funding that we have seen in the state of Texas for public education has been pretty phenomenal” even though school funding has dropped 25 percent since 2002. It ain’t bragging if it’s true, but if it ain’t true, it’s not bragging. It’s just a sad, easily disproved, totally unbelievable lie from Perry, and it’s one of 27 that Politifact has identified as “false” and 14 as “pants on fire.” Bless his heart.
I wish that just once the provincial pom-pom squad would stop making us all look like anxious ninnies in this eternal struggle to prove our superiority over other, less-Texan states. Have some compassion for them, for they know not what they miss.
Instead, how about we ask ourselves a more interesting question: How can Texas be better? Doesn’t that open up a whole new range of blue skies? The alternative to the status quo in Texas has never been California. The choice Texas really faces is different: Do you want more of the same, or do you think Texas can do better?
That question leads to so many others:
If our economy is booming, why is there never enough money for schools?
If Texas is creating wealth, can we reward work as well?
Why can’t the booming industry responsible for ripping up our state highways pay to fix them?
Speaking of booming, why is it OK for fertilizer plants to keep the fire marshal from inspecting them to make sure they don’t kill the neighbors?
If our economy depends on the human capital educated at universities, how come Texas still has only three Tier I research universities while-forgive me-California has 11?
Is it time to ask why Perry has to go to California in the first place to poach companies? Texas is a great place to grow a company, but why is California a great place to start a company? What do they know about fostering education, collaboration, and innovation that we can replicate here? Instead of stealing their companies, how about stealing their secret recipe?
The opportunity is as big as Texas, but admitting that we have room for improvement is the first step. Unfortunately, “The discussion’s over,” according to Perry. It’s not. Let’s get Perry a big, shiny trophy to distract him while we have a grownup conversation about how Texas can be even better. Otherwise, we’ll still be mired in silly political squabbles about whether Texas is better than California, and the only answer we ever get will be an unsatisfying “it depends.”
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JasStanford.