Rick Perry: Power fades but still leading the cheers

By almost any standard, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a lame duck. He’s not running for re-election, so he’s little more than an afterthought in state politics. He’s thinking about running for president but hasn’t made it official, so he has little claim on the national spotlight. And with the Legislature out of session and taking no official action, Perry can’t even throw his weight round by wielding the veto pen he has used so effectively over his nearly 14 years in the governor’s office. And yet Perry continues to command attention as the state’s top salesman and number one cheerleader, working to bring new business to the state and solidify the presence of businesses that are already here. The hallmarks of his life and career, dogged persistence and unwavering resiliency, still serve him well as he hawks Texas as the best place to live, work and do business.

Last week he carried the state’s message to New York, where he scoured the cityscape and countryside for business relocation prospects and challenged Empire State Gov. Andrew Cuomo to debate the relative merits of Texas and New York economic policies. Democrat Cuomo declined, perhaps because he feared Republican Perry’s debating skills but more likely because New York’s chief executive knows that his state comes up short in any argument over which of the two states boasts a better economic climate. Texas wins that showdown, whether Perry lives in the governor’s mansion, the White House or a cabana on South Padre Island. Where’s the proof? Consider the news release issued by the nonprofit National Center for Policy Analysis even before the dust settled on the Perry-Cuomo shootout in Manhattan. Not only is New York a notoriously high-tax state for business, the Dallas-based think tank noted, individuals can save thousands of dollars in taxes by moving from New York to Texas:

• *$1,034 per year in discretionary income for a 40-year-old single homeowner earning $100,00; • *$5,092 per year for a 40-year-old married couple earning $250,000; • *$8,928 per year for a 40-year-old married couple earning $500,000.

Over their lifetimes, the move to Texas would potentially save those couples, respectively, $85,472; $421,117; and $738,332. Corny as it may sound there is a “can do” attitude in Texas that’s hard to find elsewhere, particularly in the Northeast where unemployment is high, the cities are old and dying, and unions stifle growth and productivity. Texas cities, on the other hand, lead the nation in virtually every category defining livability and economic vitality. Our very own region has seen consistent decreases in the unemployment rate – down 0.5 percent to 5.3 from February to March, according to the latest figures from the Texas Workforce Commission – and recent nationwide rankings have singled out Fort Worth as the best place to find a job, the city with the best downtown and even as the “most country” city in America. Perry typifies the Texas spirit. Like him or not – and the line is long on both sides – he is a fighter and he continues to personify optimism and progress.

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Which doesn’t prevent his detractors from piling on every chance they get. While the governor traveled the country proselytizing on behalf of the Lone Star State, he was under attack back home. In Austin, a grand jury was investigating his 2013 attempt to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign after she was arrested for drunken driving. Perry threatened to veto $3.7 million in state funds appropriated for the DA’s Public Integrity Unit unless she stepped down – and he made good on the threat when she refused to leave office. As if that weren’t enough, a legislative committee also met last week to scrutinize Perry’s use of the Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund to attract business to the state. The funds have played a key role in Texas’ economic success, spending $600 million to attract new businesses to Texas and keep others from leaving. Some legislators – including some Republicans – and even Perry’s would-be GOP successor, Attorney General Greg Abbott, have expressed misgivings about the funds. Projects are chosen for funding by unanimous agreement of the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.

Some critics claim that too many of the recipients are major contributors to Perry’s campaigns; others wonder if the state should be in the business of picking “winners and losers” among businesses competing for the money. As Perry wraps up his final term, the state’s Republicans will continue to abandon him. They simply don’t need him anymore, at least not the way they did when he was at the peak of his power as the state’s longest-serving governor. Abbott, facing a contentious race against Democratic state senator and frequent Perry-basher Wendy Davis, has more to gain by maintaining a healthy distance from Perry than by standing next to him. But say what you will, Perry shows no signs of being either distracted or disillusioned in his efforts to promote Texas as an example of a state that is business friendly and a place “that works” on several levels. It’s a model for much of the country and Perry should get credit for helping create this environment.

Richard Connor is CEO of the Business Press’ parent company, DRC Media. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net.