It may not be the first rule of American journalism, but it's certainly in the top 10: The participation of a Texas politician in any race guarantees good times for reporters.
It's a lesson I learned early in my career, when shortly after my arrival at an Austin newspaper, Gov. Dolph Briscoe appointed a dead man to a state commission. This wasn't as big a story as you might think — Briscoe had already appointed three other dead guys to various jobs — but it was still lots of fun to cover.
So was a subsequent Texas gubernatorial candidate, Claytie Williams, who casually mentioned to reporters one day that as a college student, he'd regularly visited a brothel to be "serviced." During the political train wreck that followed, columnist Molly Ivins asked Williams what he could possibly have been thinking to say such a thing. "Well, Molly," said the contrite Williams, "I thought 'serviced' sounded better than" — and ended the sentence with a word similar to "firetrucked," but with fewer letters.
So I have no doubt that Rick Perry will liven up the Republican presidential race. Just the same, I'm staying off the bandwagon. And anybody who believes that America could use less government — or even just less Barack Obama — should join me.
The unfortunate fact is that Perry and Obama have a lot more in common than either would like to admit. They both think they're smarter than the laws of economics and that they make wiser choices than markets do. And they both see taxpayer money as a giant trough for feeding their political pals. Perry is actually truthful about this, sort of. "I am a probusiness governor," he told Time last week. "I will be a probusiness president." What he means is that he's pro-certain-businesses, the ones run by his friends.
As governor of Texas, Perry controls hundreds of millions of dollars in state handouts to corporations for "job creation and economic development." Not surprisingly, it turns out that the funds are especially good at developing one particular sector of the Texas economy: Perry's campaign funds.
The Texas Observer revealed earlier this year that of the 55 companies that have dipped into the $345 million Texas Enterprise Fund controlled by Perry, 20 have been have donated money either directly to Perry's political campaign funds or to the Republican Governors Association.
We're not talking chump change: The Observer counted donations over $2 million.
And Perry is not content to merely pick taxpayer pockets on behalf of his corporate friends; he'll resort to strong-arm robbery when necessary. The biggest controversy of his decade in the governor's mansion was an arrogant attempted land grab called the Trans-Texas Corridor, a $185 billion system of superhighways for which the state would have had to acquire as much as a thousand square miles of territory. To deal with troublesome property owners who didn't want to sell, Perry persuaded the legislature to pass a new form of eminent domain known as "quick-claim," in which the state could have seized any land it wanted with just 90 days of notice, then "negotiate" the price later. Fortunately, the superhighway plan died in 2010.
President Barack Obama's enemies often refer to him as a socialist. But what he really has been practicing in Washington the past 21/2 years is crony capitalism, using programs like TARP and the stimulus package to funnel trillions of dollars in swag to politically connected companies. The result has been an economy that barely rises to the level of narcolepsy in its best moments. Perry has been doing the same thing with a smaller budget in Austin, though the damage hasn't been as great because he had the foresight to run for governor in a state floating on a lake of oil.
The only change we'll get in Washington if he's elected is to the names of the recipients of the corporate welfare checks.
Glenn Garvin is a columnist for the Miami Herald.
© 2011 Miami Herald