Carroll County Times

Melinda Henneberger: Texans await Perry's announcement

In San Antonio today, Texas Gov. Rick Perry will share his "exciting future plans." Not to be confused with his past plans, I guess, or his not-so-hot ones.
Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure these don't involve accepting the $90 billion or so in federal money to expand Medicaid that would insure 1 million more Texans in a state that's first in job creation but second in the number of children without health insurance.
When I asked a few Texans what they figured their governor would announce, though, I did get some exciting replies: Secede from the union? Change the part in his hair? Break in some new boots? And those were the Republicans, who have nothing but praise for their longest-serving governor - just as long as they're speaking for attribution.
Perry did succeed in turning his state's governorship from one of the weakest in the country to one of the strongest by applying a strict personal loyalty test to those he appointed to every seat on every board.
As a result, he always has been more feared than loved. But after his bellyflop of a presidential run, some of his power to intimidate seems to have worn off. Texas House Speaker Joe Straus - a Republican, of course - publicly criticized Perry's remarks about Wendy Davis, the state senator who successfully filibustered an anti-abortion bill, as damaging to the GOP.
I think Perry was actually trying to pay Davis a compliment. "Who are we to say,'' he asked, "that children born in the worst of circumstances can't lead successful lives? Even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She's the daughter of a single woman; she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate. It's just unfortunate that she hasn't learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential, and that every life matters.'' Which I took to mean that had her single mom chosen not to have her, the world would have been deprived of her intelligence and fortitude.
I'm not surprised, however, that Texas Republicans are telling pollsters that they don't want Perry to run for president in '16: Just 18 percent of GOP primary voters want him to go for it, while 69 percent hope he doesn't.
Even among Texans, he's the sixth-choice Republican presidential candidate right now, after Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and Paul Ryan. And although his job approval rating in the state has improved substantially lately, more still disapprove than give him a thumbs-up, and 60 percent of respondents in a recent Public Policy Polling survey said they do not think he should run for a fourth term as governor, either, compared with the 30 percent who say he should.
That doesn't mean Texas is likely to turn blue any time soon, however, because it's still an awfully red state - and one that has only gotten redder in recent years, with Barack Obama taking 44 percent of the vote in '08 and 41 percent in '12.
Longtime Democratic consultant Marc Campos, of Houston, who calls Perry "Governor Dude,'' is less sure than some others in the state about how the governor will come down on the question of "to dude or not to dude'' for a fourth term. "Oops means oops,'' Campos jokes, referring not only to Perry's inability to remember during a GOP primary debate the name of the third federal agency he'd vowed to cut, but also to Perry's presidential chances if he does run in '16.
Yet Campos assesses his party's chances of taking the governorship next year no less realistically, quoting Rocco Lampone's line in "The Godfather Part II" that shooting Hyman Roth would be "difficult, not impossible. It would have to be a hardly-any-room-for-error type of campaign,'' he says, and darn well funded.
As The Dallas Morning News' Wayne Slater points out, Davis has doubled her name recognition lately, yet is still unlikely to prevail over Perry, who won by 13 points in '10 as the least-popular Republican on the ballot. Although 38 percent of Texans are Latino, turnout continues to be a problem, with Hispanics accounting for more than a third of the population, yet only about a fifth of the vote.
Rep. Joaquin Castro - whose twin, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, would have the best chance of besting Perry if he does run again, according to a recent poll - told me that "we're going to see the state get more competitive, but realistically, our window" for turning Texas blue "is eight to 12 years."
Perry might actually speed that process along if he does seek re-election, and the state's Republican attorney general, Greg Abbott, opposes him in a primary. If that happens, Castro says, it will be expensive, brutal and "a replay of what happened to the once-dominant Democratic Party" in Texas in the '80s, with more infighting than punches thrown at the other party.
No one can say that Perry suffers from a lack of confidence, though, and it wouldn't be like him to worry about that. Just before he was elected to his third term, he told me that walking away after only two would have been "like Van Gogh walking away when he's two-thirds finished with a masterpiece.'' Today, we'll find out whether he thinks any brush work remains undone.