Commentary: Perry's campaign should reimburse Texas $3.6 million

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramApril 4, 2012 

The governor of Texas, while having limited constitutional powers, has many responsibilities that include promoting the state around the country and the world.

He or she should do everything possible to help attract industry to Texas and to champion public school programs that will prepare Texas students to meet the challenges of a changing workforce that requires more education, fine-tuned skills and greater commitment than ever before.

The governor must lead, and sometimes that means taking the initiative to talk with heads of state about import/export opportunities, or to negotiate with heads of corporations to convince them that Texas is a great place to do business.

It's generally understood that the governor can't sit in his office and wait for others to come knocking. To achieve these goals requires some travel.

Note, I said some travel.

Over the past few years it's been suggested that Gov. Rick Perry hasn't just "traveled," he's "gallivanted" across the globe for his own pleasure and self-aggrandizement.

The governor deserves some acknowledgement for helping to attract new business to the state and, rightly or wrongly, he can take some credit for Texas' relatively low unemployment rate and its generally good economy compared to the rest of the nation. After all, it happened on his watch whether or not he had much to do with it.

But Perry also must take some blame -- for the state's terribly under-funded public education system, for the decline in state support for higher education, for having the largest number of uninsured children in the country and, just recently, for causing the federal government not to fund the Women's Health Program by rejecting Planned Parenthood as a medical provider.

It troubles many Texans that amid these statewide challenges the governor has been preoccupied with other things, and not just running for president.

Before he announced his candidacy for the highest office in the land -- using his "success" in the Lone Star State as his chief calling card -- Perry was globe-trotting, partly on the state's dime and partly with funds provided by wealthy donors to a nonprofit group run out of his office.

A governor has a right to travel, even to the Bahamas and China. But when public education funding is cut by $4 billion, that travel appears excessive and expensive.

Much of the state's cost, which the governor's office tried to keep from being disclosed, was for Department of Public Safety security officers who accompanied Perry on his out-of-town journeys.

Those out-of-state travels increased greatly as Perry competed in presidential primaries and caucuses around the country.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that the governor's failed presidential bid cost Texas taxpayers more than $3.6 million in travel and overtime pay for his security detail during the 160 days he campaigned.

"The Texas department spent more than $1.8 million on airfare, food, fuel, lodging and other travel expenses between Aug. 10 and the end of January as it protected the governor on the campaign trail," the AP said.

Another $1.8 million went for overtime for the agents who protected Perry and his family.

There is precedent for protecting the governor during a presidential run. George W. Bush received DPS protection until the Secret Service took over.

While a governor has many responsibilities, running for president is not one of them, no matter how much he thinks the country needs his leadership abilities. Taxpayers should not pay for his security during his presidential odyssey. That should be the campaign's responsibility.

I join the growing chorus saying the state needs to be reimbursed that $3.6 million.

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