Texas Gov. Rick Perry touted his state’s job creation record – the supposed “Texas miracle” – to a crowd of state legislators from across the country this morning and reiterated the point he’s consistently made during his 10-year tenure as governor: low taxes and a lax regulatory requirement is responsible for job creation in Texas.
Yet the speech presented a toned-down version of Perry, who is expected to signal his presidential candidacy during an event Saturday. His comments came in San Antonio at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan organization that is reluctant to take polarizing positions. More than 1,000 state legislators are attending the group's annual conference.
Perry didn’t mention President Obama by name; the economy was the sole issue he discussed. He also didn’t discuss his candidacy for the presidency, though Texas Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst (who introduced the governor) suggested Perry is up for the task.
“In these troubled and unsettling times I am more convinced than ever that there’s no such thing as a coincidence, that when a nation like America comes to a crossroads in dark hours, proven men and women -- tested men and women -- are called not just to stand in the gap but to lead in dark hours,” Dewhurst said. “I know Rick Perry. I know the man. Rick Perry is such a leader.”
The governor hammered on the theme that will likely define his presidential candidacy: Texas has led the country in job creation, and it’s because the government has stayed out of the way of businesses. An estimated 30 to 50 percent of jobs the country has added over the last two years are in Texas.
Perry also decried an “activist federal government” that has intruded on environmental policy, health care policy and labor policy. “States are best positioned to deal with the challenges that they face,” the country’s longest-serving governor said. “No one wants a Washington bureaucrat to answer the phone when you dial 911.”
Perry – aware of his crowd – emphasized the role of states as “laboratories for innovation” that are best-suited to quickly solve the country’s problems with innovation solutions.
NCSL leaders say it’s a coincidence that Perry spoke to their audience just days before he is expected to announce his presidential candidacy. Typically, the organization approaches the governor, mayor and legislative leaders of the state where the organization’s annual conference is held, and convention sites are selected years in advance. The organization extended an invitation to Perry to speak several months ago, before much of the speculation about a possible presidential run began to mount.
Perry attacked the federal government’s spending record and President Obama’s stimulus bill by saying it hasn’t put the country back to work. “No government program, no matter how well intended,” can fix the country’s staggering unemployment, Perry said, arguing that deficit spending would only make the situation worse. “The fact is that, government doesn’t create jobs,” Perry said. “Otherwise the last two and a half years of stimulus would have worked.” The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has found that the program created or saved millions of jobs.
Instead, Perry argued, “the government can only create the environment at allows the private sector to create jobs.” He said low taxes in Texas, a predictable regulatory structure, and tort reform, including its recent "loser pays" law, have created a pro-business climate in his state that has encouraged job creation. Critics say those policies may all be to blame for the state's higher-than-average poverty rates, low graduation rates and the country's highest rate of uninsured residents.
Without using President Obama’s name, Perry criticized the "Keynesian" leaders of Washington and reminded the audience of the recent Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the federal government’s credit rating. And he suggested the recent debt deal should have reduced spending even more than it will. The message was an unusual one for an audience that has spent much of the week examining how they will cope with the major discretionary cuts over the next decade.
Perry’s speech lacked the give-and-take with the audience that is typical in presidential stump speeches. Many parts of the speech elicited only partial applause from the audience, with many in the crowd often remaining silent, largely due to the number of legislators in attendances who don’t share his political views.
“This west Texas optimist sees our brightest hour as just around the corner,” Perry concluded. “But we’re going to have our work ahead of us.”