By CALEB HANNAN, POLITICO
There are many ways to run for president, even when it’s so early in the process that you don’t want to actually appear to be running for president. Yet Texas Governor Rick Perry may have found a new one.
While the men most considered to be his fellow hopefuls in the 2016 Republican race bounce between the early-primary states, Perry has charted a different course. He’s spent his fair share of time in South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire, of course. But he’s also paid multiple visits to a handful of states that would appear to have little to do with each other, and even less to do with winning a party nomination.
Since as early as February of last year and as recently as April of this one, Perry has made eight trips to six different states, all of which have one very particular thing in common: They’re run by Democratic governors. Perry has used his visits to hammer on a consistent theme: Texas is a great state for business; the state he’s currently in is not; so wouldn’t it make sense then for all those companies that aren’t currently located in the Lone Star State to correct their error? Earlier this month, Perry made plain the politics behind his accumulated frequent-flier miles. “Blue-state governors need to be looking over their shoulder,” he told a Fox News panel.
Perry’s focused national tour is built around a message that’s tailor made for a presidential campaign whose central issue will likely be a lagging economy. The “Texas miracle,” the idea that Perry’s policies produced job growth in the worst climate since the Great Depression, first emerged in his initial failed campaign and has lived on ever since, buoyed by the fact that the state’s unemployment rate remains below the national average. But as any number of progressive-minded opponents will tell you, that “miracle” is most likely due in large part to the state’s wealth of fossil fuels. Hardly an advantage Perry can claim credit for. But tempting CEOs to relocate southward? For that he’ll gladly take an attaboy.
Poaching companies is nothing new. States have been bad-mouthing and out-bidding each other for decades in the hopes of luring more business, often with little to show for it. But according to Greg Leroy, the executive director of Good Jobs First, a D.C.-based non-profit devoted to exposing what it considers the folly of government subsidies often given in the name of attracting companies, Perry’s campaign stands on its own. “I’ve been covering this for 30 years and there’s no precedent for what he’s doing,” says Leroy. “Nobody’s been as aggressive. Nobody’s done it as personally. He’s really taking it to a new low.”
Whether you believe Perry is simply doing what’s best for Texas or using partially taxpayer-funded trips to launch a national campaign mostly depends on your affiliation. A spokesperson for Perry insists, “These trips are about competition for the best ideas.” Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Manny Garcia naturally disagrees: “This is quite clearly a front to rebrand himself.” Even those stuck in the middle realize the issues are intertwined. When reached for comment, Carol Sims, the director of the Texas Business Roundtable, said that she’d be happy to comment on Perry’s attempts to lure businesses into the state but wasn’t comfortable speaking about his “national political aspirations.” When it was suggested that it might be impossible to talk about one and not the other, Sims agreed. “Yeah that’s true,” she said. Then she laughed.
Beyond how they might lay the groundwork for a future presidential campaign, though, there’s a more fundamental question raised by Perry’s trips. Are they actually doing anything for Texas? The War Between the States—the ongoing battle for businesses to relocate from one to another—has its roots in the Depression-era South, with flare-ups ever since. It usually follows a familiar pattern: A company expresses an interest in moving. States line up to offer them subsidies and tax breaks. And in the end, a politician has a press conference where they subtly, or not so subtly, take most of the credit.
The ideological fuel powering Perry’s trips out of state says that, unlike the weather, that vague term known as a “business climate” can be engineered, and that no one’s done a better job of parting the clouds than Texas. But Leroy and nearly a century’s worth of data suggest otherwise. As does the most recent pelt in Perry’s poaching tour, which also happens to be the biggest such prize in his political career.
Perry’s odyssey began last year with a radio ad that played in and around Sacramento in advance of his first trip. “Building a business is tough, but I hear building a business in California is next to impossible,” says Perry in a voiceover. “I have a message for California businesses: Come check out Texas.” The ad set the tone for Perry’s subsequent trips, which revolved around the reddest of red meat: guns and taxes.