Repub­li­can gov­er­nor’s race gets messy in Texas

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HALLOW

Repub­li­can in­fight­ing is get­ting nasty early in Texas’ gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary race — a bell­wether in­di­cat­ing whether the party will en­hance its elec­toral for­tunes by tack­ing cen­ter or right, or de­vour it­self and raise the prospects for Democrats in the red­dest of red states.

For­mer U.S. House Ma­jor­ity Leader Dick Armey, a con­ser­va­tive stal­wart and a leader of an­ti­spend­ing “tea party” protests, iron­i­cally has fired an open­ing salvo by cast­ing his lot with moderate Sen. Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son’s bid to un­seat Gov. Rick Perry.

“Rick Perry has had 10 years as gov­er­nor to get done what he wanted to get done — and he has got noth­ing done, which is a per­fect in­di­ca­tion of what he wanted to get done,” Mr. Armey told The Wash­ing­ton Times in a phone in­ter­view from a tea party rally in Mi­ami.

“The gov­er­nor has taken a lot of col­or­ful and en­ter­tain­ing po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions, but I don’t re­call his ever be­ing truly ex­cited about any pol­icy mat­ters or po­si­tions.”

Mr. Armey said he doesn’t al­ways agree with Mrs. Hutchi­son but that she is a doer and not just a talker.

In­censed by Mr. Armey’s blasts, Perry cam­paign spokesman Mark Miner snapped, “Done noth­ing? Un­der Gov. Perry’s lead­er­ship, Texas has im­ple­mented the most sweep­ing tort re­form in the na­tion, cut taxes, pro­tected pri­vate prop­erty rights and cut gen­eral rev­enue spending twice.”

The gov­er­nor’s chief cam­paign con­sul­tant, Dave Car­ney, said Mr. Armey’s stance ap­pears to be fall­out from an ear­lier spat. Mr. Perry can­celed a state con­tract with the lob­by­ing firm Mr. Armey rep­re­sented af­ter it signed on to of­fer sim­i­lar ad­vice on mil­i­tary base clos­ings for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. In a March 21, 2004, re­port in the Dal­las Morn­ing News, Mr. Perry cited a con­flict-of-in­ter­est clause in the con­tract with Mr. Armey’s firm.

“The two candidates seem not to care for each other, and the race seems quite likely to get bit­ter and per­sonal,” said An­drew Karch, a Uni­ver­sity of Texas pro­fes­sor on gov­ern­ment.

Crit­ics say Mr. Perry — the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor who took over when Ge­orge W. Bush moved to the White House in 2001 — failed to lead the charge for manda­tory voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion to pre­vent fraud, and has turned down only a small frac­tion of his state’s share of Pres­i­dent Obama’s eco­nomic stim­u­lus spending while mak­ing it sound as if he were cham­pi­oning con­ser­vatism’s aver­sion to all lib­eral eco­nomic pump-prim­ing.

Nev­er­the­less, Mr. Armey’s sup­port of Mrs. Hutchi­son shocks con­ser­va­tives who re­gard her as be­ing more cen­ter than right and who note she is the self-ac­knowl- edged Earmarks Queen of the Hill. She has brought back bil­lions of fed­eral tax­payer dol­lars to Texas since she en­tered the Se­nate in 1983 ($8.7 bil­lion ac­cord­ing to her own es­ti­mate — which she proudly says demon­strates that she is “ef­fec­tive” for Texas).

In con­trast, Mr. Perry, 59, has long held a place deep in the heart of con­ser­va­tives of all stripe for his rep­u­ta­tion as a tight­fisted, tax-cut­ting foe of abor­tion and gay mar­riage.

When in­formed that Mr. Armey is sup­port­ing Mrs. Hutchi­son in­stead of Mr. Perry, Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union Chair­man David A. Keene de­liv­ered an in­cred­u­lous one-word re­sponse: “Why?”

Mr. Miner asks the same ques­tion, while in­sist­ing that Mr. Perry “has po­si­tioned Texas to be bet­ter off eco­nom­i­cally than al­most any other state in the coun­try and Perry is the only true con­ser­va­tive in this race.”

Likely Repub­li­can vot­ers in the state ap­pear to agree. Though Mrs. Hutchi­son has an edge of 40 per­cent to 38 per­cent over­all and leads among moderate and lib­eral Repub­li­can vot­ers in the lat­est Ras­mussen poll, taken last month, Mr. Perry leads among self-iden­ti­fied con­ser­va­tive vot­ers. Though Mrs. Hutchi­son’s 2per­cent­age-point ad­van­tage is well within the poll’s er­ror mar­gin, it does rep­re­sent a 10-point gain for her over her lag­ging place­ment in the Ras­mussen mid-July poll.

The race is for the base in the 2010 gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary, both sides think, even though Texas cam­paign law opens it to Democrats and in­de­pen­dents. But just to be sure, the Perry side wants to frame it as Texas vs. Wash­ing­ton as well as right ver­sus cen­ter.

Mrs. Hutchi­son’s big­gest prob­lem may be in get­ting the Texas GOP base, in the age of tea party re­bel­lion, to ap­plaud — or over­look — her for con­tribut­ing to Wash­ing­ton’s 20-year spending spree by bring­ing the ba­con home to Texas.

“Earmarks will be a huge is­sue in this pri­mary next year,” said Mer­rill Matthews, res­i­dent scholar at the Dal­las-based In­sti­tute for Pol­icy In­no­va­tion.

Mr. Perry’s prob­lem may be in per­suad­ing his own base of val­ues-vot­ers and lib­er­tar­ian-lean­ers to ig­nore his hav­ing is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der re­quir­ing teenage girls to be vac­ci­nated against a sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­ease that can cause cer­vi­cal can­cer. Though the state leg­is­la­ture later over­turned it, the or­der had man­dated that all young school­girls in Texas re­ceive state-pur­chased doses of a vac­cine made by a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firm in which for­mer Perry aides have a vested in­ter­est. When crit­ics on the right raised the ques­tion of whether it was a case of crony­ism or good shep­ar­dism, Mr. Perry pleaded the lat­ter.

“I am some­what sur­prised that Hutchi­son hasn’t got­ten, or at­tempted to get, more mileage out of Perry’s vac­cine or­der,” Mr. Karch said. “It’s one of the few episodes dur­ing which he was out of step with the GOP pri­mary base. It might be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ since it hap­pened in 2007.”


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