In recent weeks there has been a “ Rick Perry for President” boom among Republicans dissatisfied with their current crop of candidates.
That enthusiasm has encouraged the Texas governor to reconsider his previous reluctance to run.
Perry ostensibly brings Texas-sized credentials to the fray. He appeals to tea party supporters and religious conservatives. He has never lost an election, and he holds no policy positions that would anger base GOP primary voters.
Governor of the state for more than a decade, Perry is not shy in touting the so-called Texas economic miracle. “Texas is open for business,” he is fond of saying. The claim has some substance: Texas last year lead the nation in job creation and statewide unemployment is below the national average.
But a closer look at Texas shows that many of Perry’s claims are either illusory or have been accomplished at serious social cost. To be sure, Texas has created jobs, but most of them are minimum-wage jobs with companies relocating in Texas because the governor and the legislature have been slashing taxes.
It’s a good thing companies new to Texas are looking for minimum-wage jobs: they won’t find many skilled and educated workers in the Lone Star State. Texas under Perry ranks 50th – that’s last – among states in the percentage of its over-25 population with a high school diploma, and it is 49th in verbal SAT scores in the nation.
Texas is 50th in per capita spending on mental health and in the percentage of pregnant women who receive prenatal care.
Texas is first in the nation in the gap between rich and poor. Twenty-three percent of the state’s children live in poverty, and since December 2007, 600,000 new Texans under the age of 17 have qualified for food stamps.
It promises to get worse. Despite the purported economic miracle under Perry’s stewardship, the state faces a $23 billion shortfall. Perry and his right-wing allies in the legislature have not been bashful in using the debt as an excuse to eliminate social programs. They have proposed balancing the budget by slashing spending by 25 percent and without increasing revenues. As Paul Krugman observed: “Texas is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting — the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending — has been implemented most completely.”
Perry has other problems as well. His call for a Christian gathering of prayer and fasting in Houston on August 6 is controversial. He presides over the state that executes more of its citizens – some of whom may have been innocent – than any other. And then there is the issue of “Texas governor fatigue.”
The late Molly Ivins once called the Texas legislature “the national laboratory of bad government.” Anyone wanting to know what the United States might look like under President Perry has only to gaze upon the laboratory that is Texas today.
The eyes of the nation are upon Texas.