By Christy Hoppe, Dallas News
Preparing for a possible presidential run, Perry has quietly set up weekly meetings with business titans and media heads and hunkered down with policy experts — many from George W. Bush’s administration and Mitt Romney’s campaign, according to a review of his official calendar by The Dallas Morning News.
Perry has dialed the chief of Starbucks, dined with the chairman of JPMorgan Chase and deliberated with a former secretary of state. He has sat with billionaires Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch, David Koch and Moafaq Al Gaddah, a Middle East magnate.
He has welcomed Sada Cumber, Bush’s special envoy to the Organization of Islamic States, to the Governor’s Mansion. He has met with the president of Croatia and the prime minister of Israel. And he visits regularly with fellows from conservative think tanks, such as the Brookings, Manhattan and Hoover institutions.
Perry has frequently said that if he jumps into another presidential race, he will not make the same mistakes he did during his disastrous outing in 2012. One of the most damaging was his struggle discussing policy issues in depth. In the most evident display of his intentions, the calendar shows Perry is studiously preparing for another run.
“There is a clear difference between last time and this time, if he decides to run,” said Mark Miner, who served as a spokesman for Perry during his last presidential run and has traveled with him for much of the past year.
Miner pointed out that in 2011, Perry joined the campaign just after a demanding legislative session and back surgery, which left him in pain and disrupted his sleep and exercise routine.
“He has been a successful governor, but there is much more preparation in running for president, and that’s what he’s going through,” Miner said. “He’s taking it very seriously.”
Heading up the effort is political consultant Jeff Miller, who arranges most of the meetings, travels with Perry and attends the briefings.
Perry wooed Miller to relocate to Austin from California in December 2012.
The sessions have drilled down on topics such as immigration, entitlement programs, health care and foreign affairs, but he downplays that Perry is in policy school.
“I don’t think ‘education’ is the right word because if you speak to him, you know he’s very well-versed on current affairs,” Miller said. “It’s plugging into all the granular details on a lot of these issues.”
Prying open calendar
Breaking with precedent from previous governors, Perry does not release his weekly schedule. He provides only short notice of policy speeches and public appearances in Texas.
The News obtained his official calendar under the state open records law. The request covers the 13 months from July 1, 2013, when the bulk of the year’s legislative work was over, through July 31, 2014.
While there are gaps because his personal and political calendars are not subject to disclosure laws, the available details have largely been kept under wraps. Most apparent is his extensive travel, which has stepped up considerably from previous years.
On Saturday, the governor left for Japan, where he’ll address the American Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo. Then, it’s off to an economic summit in China. Later this fall, he will travel to England, Poland, Croatia, Romania and the Baltics.
In the past year, Perry has spent more than 100 days out of state, with numerous trips to Iowa and South Carolina — early contests in the presidential race. He’s also visited New York, Washington, D.C., and California repeatedly.
While most of the trips are billed as promotional tours to lure business to Texas, touting the state’s low taxes and regulatory policies, Perry has used each as a vehicle to meet influential people who could also help fuel a presidential campaign.
He pays for his travel with campaign contributions or through TexasOne, an economic development group that’s financed by chamber and corporate sponsors. Taxpayers are billed for the contingent of security officers that travels with him.
Miner said Perry, who leaves office in January after 31/2 terms, is still devoted to Texas business. “It shouldn’t be surprising that the governor is multitasking.”
But Democrats have been critical of his frequent trips, launching a caustic “Trip Advisor” email blast each time the governor’s travel plans are reported.
“If it were a meeting here and there, that would be one thing,” said Will Hailer, executive director of the state Democratic Party. “But it’s disappointing to see a governor getting his paycheck, getting a pension too and using taxpayer dollars for security so he can further his ambitions for president.”
Hailer accused Perry of using state time and money “so that he can pay for school so he doesn’t have another ‘oops’ moment. I don’t think that’s the best use of taxpayer dollars.”
Some Perry advisers have been brought to Texas, such as Avik Roy, Romney’s health care adviser, and Jeanette Henderson, co-founder of Podium Master.
Podium Master has coached Republican leaders such as Bush, Colin Powell and Rudy Giuliani in public speaking. Henderson has met with the governor for seven sessions since February at a cost of about $17,000, according to campaign finance reports.
Lanhee Chen, the top policy adviser for Romney, is a conservative expert in health care policies who has met with Perry twice for long policy sessions.
“The governor is very interested in learning. He’s got questions himself. I was impressed by the way he approached the meeting and the seriousness with how he approached it,” Chen said.
Chen also has talked with Perry about how to set up policy operations for a presidential campaign, which was what Chen did for Romney.
Chen said that from his perspective in the Romney campaign in 2012, Perry had not left a strong impression.
“I try to approach this all with an open mind,” said Chen, who also is advising other potential GOP candidates. “I know he’s been governor of a big, major state for a long time. He obviously has experience and ability.”
But after a few sessions, “I was definitely pleasantly surprised, if that’s not too strong a word. It’s been a pleasure,” Chen said.
In addition to policy and speech, Perry has taken steps to reach out to those influential in the media, including the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, the executive staff of Univision, Forbes Media CEO Steve Forbes (himself a former presidential candidate), National Review editor Rich Lowry and CBS News president David Rhodes.
The candidates who seek advice outside routine partisan circles do better in debates and on the campaign trail, said presidential scholar Bruce Buchanan of the University of Texas at Austin.
“It sounds like a very serious effort to really come up to speed,” Buchanan said of Perry. “And if you’re serious, you’re a fool not to do all this and more.”