Rick Perry Wins TX-Gov Republican Primary

In 2006, Rick Perry won re-election as Governor of Texas with just 39% of the vote in a four-way race. A February PPP poll found that almost four years later, his approval rating is just 33% and his disapproval 50%. With numbers like that, one wonders how he can possibly win re-election in 2010. And yet, Governor Good Hair will once again be the Republican nominee this fall. That's bad for Texas since it means the worst candidate has the best chance, but good for Democrats since it means his win isn't a lock.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, once the state's most popular Republican, has conceded to Gov. Perry in today's gubernatorial primary. With 51% of precincts reporting, Perry has 52.77% of the vote to Hutchison's 30.99%. In a surprising twist, tea party/truther candidate Deb Medina has a full 17.57% of the vote, not fading in the stretch the way most third party candidates (think New Jersey's Chris Daggett) do.

Perry's win is probably good news for Democrats, even though I was originally hoping Hutchison would win. She'd be a much better Governor than the power hungry Perry and would leave us with an open Senate seat. That may, however, still be the case, given that she said she would resign her seat win-or-lose. One wonders if she'll keep that promise, but either way, with numbers like Perry's this does create a chance to win the Texas Governorship. It's the Lt. Gov. with the real power in the state - at least, it is Constitutionally, and it was in reality before Perry - but a win would still carry huge symbolic value, especially coming in the political climate of 2010. And in the aforementioned February PPP poll, Perry only beat Democrat and former Houston Mayor Bill White 48-42. Bill White will be a very formidable candidate for us, probably the best we've had for state-wide office since the late Bob Bullock. Texas Monthly had a great article in December on White's heroic response to Hurricane Katrina and his standing in the state:

"He has instilled confidence, and he has gotten people to trust him to such a degree that people have this feeling that the city is in great shape because Bill White has been taking care of it for six years," says Nancy Sims,a long time observer of Houston politics who writes a popular political blog, texas-musings.com. "There is really not a group of people that you can find that, as a whole, hate Bill White, which is a rare thing to say about a mayor." Says Craig Varoga, a national political consultant who has worked extensively in Houston: "Even people who are unhappy or dissatisfied because of their particular issues will say that they think he has done a good job overall. A lot of that is rooted in Katrina, which was the perfect confluence of reality and politics."

He has done it with a complex and ambitious plan that few mayors anywhere would have attempted. Against the advice of his friend, former mayor Bob Lanier, White has not cherry-picked a few prominent urban problems to solve. He has instead taken on more than a dozen major issues, many of which carried considerable political risk. He banned, for all practical purposes, lobbyists from city hall and from any involvement in city contracts, thereby cleaning up what many had come to call "the trough." He took on the city's legendary traffic jams and, in a series of programs, untangled some of them and sped up commuting times. He reduced the city's property tax rate five years out of six; shored up the city's wobbly pension system; reduced the City of Houston's energy consumption by 6 percent, making Houston one of the greenest cities in the country; took on petrochemical companies over air pollution; added parks and libraries; cleaned up decaying neighborhoods and built affordable housing; revamped a badly managed police department, resulting in the city's lowest crime level in decades; and signed new contracts with firefighters giving them 38 percent raises, the first salary increase in six years.

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Texas Needs Term Limits

I am not a proponent of term limits. As they say, I've got to figure that the best term limit is the ballot box, and campaign finance reform would be a better solution to the problem of incumbency than term limits. If you've got a good leader in office, there's no reason to turn her out - even if all her initial campaign ideas have run out, there's always room for management and crisis skills.

But every rule has its exception, and "Texas Monthly" political writer Paul Burka has got me convinced that Texas is the exception to the anti-term limit view. Robert Draper's much bally-hooed article in this weekend's New York Times Magazine has brought no small amount of attention to Texas Governor Rick Perry and his upcoming Republican primary with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. The article is well worth the read, but I was even more taken with Burka's most recent editorial in which he argues that, given the nature of the Texas Constitution, the only way to keep the Governor of Texas from running the state like a monarch is to cap the position at two four-year terms.

Legally speaking, the Governor of Texas is not a very strong position. The Governor can really only do two things: veto bills, and appoint the 4,000 members of the state's various boards and commissions. It is those boards, along with the state legislature (which is run by the Lt. Gov.), that do the real governing. Perry, however, has gained extra-legal power at the state level the same way his predecessor didn't do in Austin but did do at the national level: by taking it. Better to beg forgiveness later, the old cliché goes, then to ask permission first.

Most board members serve six-year terms. Perry, at nine years, is the longest serving Governor in Texas, and by now has appointed every single board member in the entire state. He demands extreme loyalty from his appointees and is not above LBJ-like bullying tactics if he doesn't get it. Burka examines those abuses of power:

His long tenure in office, now nearing the end of a record-setting nine years, has enabled him to establish what amounts to a cabinet style of government, in which he has the ability to direct state agencies. He has appointed every member of every state board and commission and makes it clear that he expects them to follow his lead. He has used executive orders to instruct high-ranking officials to do his bidding, as when he ordered the Health and Human Services commissioner to institute a program to vaccinate girls against the virus that causes cervical cancer before they entered the sixth grade. Another Perry order directed environmental officials to fast-track the permitting of coal-fired power plants. Normally the establishment of state policy is the province of the Legislature, but Perry does not observe the traditional boundaries...

His governorship has broken new ground in enhancing executive power. He expects his appointees to carry out his will. And if they don't? After Mark Griffin, a former Lubbock school board president whom Perry appointed to the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents in 2005, spoke favorably of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry's gubernatorial rival, earlier this year, he heard from Brian Newby, a former chief of staff for Perry. According to an account in the Austin American-Statesman, Newby told Griffin that the governor "expects loyalty out of his appointees and if you can't be loyal, it's probably not best to be on the team." Loyalty is one thing; fealty is another. The regents, not the governor, have the lawful responsibility of running their universities, but Griffin chose to resign.

Burka's solution? Term limiting future Texas Governors. And for once, I am inclined to agree.

There is a remedy for this situation: term limits for Texas governors. I offer it reluctantly. Term limits have not worked well at the local level in Texas, because the time that a public official is allowed to serve is often too short. Mayors and council members hardly have time to figure out what is going on before they become lame ducks. But governor is different. Eight years is a long time. No one complains that United States presidents are limited to eight years in office.

My advocacy of term limits is not personal. If implemented, they should not apply to Perry but should take effect after he has chosen to conclude his remarkable career. Perry himself is not the issue. It's the centralization of power that he has achieved. The ability for a governor to have complete control of every state agency--and what he might do with that power (the opportunity to build a political machine, the temptation to enrich one's friends, among more-benign possibilities)--ought to be a cause for concern.

In related news, you may have heard that Texas Democrats now have their dream candidate for Governor in Houston Mayor Bill White, who did an amazing job in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I just got back from Thanksgiving in Austin, and no one I talked to thought White had a chance, especially in what may be shaping up to be a Republican year nation-wide. Against Hutchinson, they're absolutely correct, but just four years after Perry won re-election with less than 40% of the vote, I don't care how bad the political tide gets for Democrats, you can't tell me a Perry-White race wouldn't be worth watching.

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Texas Cannot Wait for Good Science in the Courtroom

Last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry removed three members from the Texas Forensic Science Commission. The changes come at a critical juncture in the investigation of the flawed forensics behind the conviction of Cameron Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for allegedly setting the fire that killed his three daughters.  

Governor Perry's removal of these three members from this commission has drawn national attention and sharp criticism because there is concern that his appointed replacement of the commission chair, John Bradley, may slow or stifle the investigation. Bradley has already cancelled a scheduled meeting on October 2, where the commission's retained fire expert, Craig Beyler, was to present and discuss his report. Beyler's report, released to the media under public information laws, confirms findings from three other expert reviews: that the arson evidence in the Willingham case was without scientific validity.

The canceled meeting is not the only casualty of this drastic change. Commission members have also decided to postpone a series of important roundtable discussions focused on a recent report of the National Academies of Science (NAS) about serious weaknesses in the nation's forensic systems because of the distractions caused by the shakeup.

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TX Gov: Rick Perry Covering Up Execution of Innocent Man in 2004

A little less than a month ago the New Yorker published a major piece making a strong case that the state of Texas executed an indisputably innocent man in 2004.

Cameron Todd Willingham was killed by the state for killing his children in a fire. Yet the best scientific analysis conclusively establishes that the fire was accidental and not caused by arson.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, going into a heated primary campaign against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, has now suddenly and summarily replaced three board members of the state agency investigating the controversial 2004 execution, indefinitely postponing a hearing into the case. The Burnt Orange Report has excellent coverage here and here.

The conservative editorial board of the Dallas Morning News outlines the case in very stark terms:

Gov. Rick Perry looks like a desperate man with his decision to jettison the chairman of the state's forensic science panel.

The panel's post-mortem look at the Cameron Todd Willingham arson-murder case goes to the heart of Texas justice - including the governor's role in it - and whether an innocent man was railroaded into the death chamber at Huntsville.

Since Perry signed off on the Willingham execution in 2004, his own accountability is at stake. So perhaps it's no surprise that two days before the Texas Forensic Science Commission was to proceed with the case this week, Perry replaced the chairman and set things back.

Glenn Smith argues that Perry is in violation of federal law:

He may have violated federal law,  U.S.C. 18.1001. This is no trivial matter. An innocent man was executed. Federal laws and guidelines are in place to keep that from happening. Perry may well have violated those laws and guidelines, for which there are criminal penalties.

Media Matters sums it up:

This is all, at the very least, quite fishy. It's also potentially earth-shaking -- never before has it been conclusively determined that someone in this country was wrongfully put to death. If Cameron Todd Willingham's innocence can be proven, it would upend the entire rationale behind our system of capital punishment. And yet there hasn't been a whole lot of media coverage - a Nexis search of all news sources for the past two days for (cameron w/2 willingham and perry) turned up seven results.

This could be the beginning of the end for not only one of the most reactionary governors in the country but for the death penalty itself.

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Rick Perry Jumps On Board The Jindal Hypocrisy Train

Remember those jumbo prop checks Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) was passing out in Louisiana? Money he was taking credit for even though it came from the federal stimulus, which he had opposed?

Jindal is not alone. His neighbor Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), who is facing a make-or-break primary campaign against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, has also bought a ticket for the stimulus hypocrisy train. (If you're more of a boat person than you are a train person, then call it the S.S. Crass Political Opportunism.) From the Houston Chronicle:

Gov. Rick Perry rallied opposition to federal stimulus spending, but he now is the manager of one of the biggest pots of federal gold in Texas: crime grants to local law enforcement agencies. And those grants have become an integral part of Perry's political machine.

Perry in the past has decided what law enforcement agencies receive about $23 million a year in Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grants. Now, because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Perry will have an additional $90 million to hand out...

Every time Perry doles out the federal Byrne grants, he sounds like the money is his.

"Texas is tough on crime and remains dedicated to equipping our law enforcement with the resources necessary to protect our citizens and ensure the safety of our communities," the governor said while handing out $2 million of the federal money to East Texas communities last year.

Perry created a controversy this year when he rejected $550 million in federal unemployment compensation funds, saying it had too many "strings attached," but he later accepted more than $12 billion in stimulus funds to balance the state's budget.

It is worth noting that Gov. Secession is not representative of the average Texan. He won re-election in 2006 against three other candidates with only 39% of the vote.

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