Commentary: What the GOP field should know about Rick Perry

Dallas Morning NewsJune 30, 2011 

Let's assume Rick Perry runs for president. Once a high-profile leader says he doesn't want the job but then starts talking about it and giving speeches around the country as the election heats up, you can bet he's running.

Here, then, are a few things his GOP opponents need to know about Texas' governor:

Most of all, don't underestimate his ability to win.

Since his days at Texas A&M University, Perry has known how to prevail. In the early 1970s, he won election as a yell leader. Those are the guys you see in white outfits doing contorted cheers during Aggie games.

Back then, yell leaders were about as big-men-on-campus as you got. A&M was made up largely of boys — and a few girls — from small towns and rural communities. The campus was a far cry from today's cosmopolitan school. In that cauldron, Perry forged an ability to outmaneuver others that continues to this day.

Remarkably, he has won every one of his political races. He started out in 1985 as a Democratic state rep, rising to state agriculture commissioner, lieutenant governor, governor and, now, likely presidential candidate.

Mitt Romney and crew need to especially understand that 1990 ag commissioner race. Perry had been a Democrat from a staunchly Democratic farm community, but he saw Texas turning Republican. Enticed by GOP recruiters, he cut his ties to West Texas Democrats and smoked out the populist Democratic agriculture commissioner, Jim Hightower.

Ever since, Perry has followed the political winds and used his fierce Republicanism to beat all foes. Just ask John Sharp, the popular Democrat he defeated for lieutenant governor in 1998. Or gubernatorial opponents Kay Bailey Hutchison, Bill White and Tony Sanchez, to whom he laid waste over the last decade. Even at Perry's lowest ebb, when he drew only 39 percent in his 2006 gubernatorial re-election campaign, he still outfoxed a four-person field.

Simple, the man has a nose for winning built into his leading-man looks. Some might deride him as Gov. Good Hair, but he's used that mane and handsome face to his advantage, just as Ronald Reagan did.

So, again, GOP candidates beware. Rick Perry will be the hardest-nosed campaigner you've faced.

But here are a few other things you need to know about Perry:

While his candidacy will promote Texas' impressive economic growth, it's also shocking how he has turned some of the state's business leaders against him. Many didn't want him re-elected last year.

Now, some are upset at him for going to war against A&M and the University of Texas at Austin. He's pushed aside A&M's two latest top executives and questioned the research emphasis of both flagship universities' professors. This hasn't pleased business leaders who prize the schools' intellectual capital.

What does it say about a Republican governor's leadership abilities that he has turned natural business allies against him, including numerous Aggies?

Similarly, Perry has few allies in Austin, where even Republicans believe he has governed by fear. What does that say about his potential as a president who would have to build coalitions to get anywhere in Washington?

Look also at his gubernatorial decisions. During this year's Legislature, Perry rebuffed top business leaders and insisted lawmakers not use the state's reserve fund to help balance Texas' two-year budget.

As a result, serious initiatives took deep cuts, when it didn't have to be that way. For example, initiatives to get young children reading and doing math were chopped.

Perry may have tea party backing, but how does he explain his budget decision to parents who want to know his education views?

Perry will campaign on Texas' economy, but he's vulnerable to examination of other parts of the state. If, as I expect, he takes his show to a national stage, he soon must face those questions.

ABOUT THE WRITER

William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him at the Dallas Morning News, Communications Center, Dallas, Texas 75265; email: wmckenzie@dallasnews.com

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