An Observation about Rick Perry

Perry has a combo of Tea Party populism and establishment going for him.

WaPo has a lengthy piece on Texas Governor Rick Perry (Texas Gov. Rick Perry wages an assault on state’s university establishment) which includes the following that struck me a fairly apt assessment:

“What one can learn from here is that, while he has good political instincts, the solutions are too simplistic,” said a senior Republican Texas legislator who has been an ally and who did not want to be quoted for attribution assessing the governor. “It’s easy to find the red meat and to find the weakness — whether it’s in the federal government, or in higher education being too fat — but his policy solutions aren’t thought through well enough before they get launched.”

This type of approach will serve him well when he gets into the presidential race.  He says a lot of things that will make the Tea Party faction and the hardcore conservatives in the GOP electorate quite happy.  He will also be able to do so from behind the veneer of an established politicians who has served in office for a rather long time now.  Indeed, one of the advantages he he has vis-à-vis Romney is that while both have executive experience in large states, Texas trumps Massachusetts any day with Republican voters.

It is further worth noting that his job as Governor of Texas encourages a situation in which he can say a lot and swagger about the state, but not actually have to do anything (given that the state constitution doesn’t give him much to actually, well, do).  And, by extension of the lack of powers and such, it is easy to take credit for things that work while also not having to own things that don’t.  The degree to which, for example, Perry can personally claim credit for job creation in Texas is actually rather dubious, but such are the politics of executive offices.*

I must confess, I question his sanity after a fashion (with tongue mostly in cheek):  why leave a job that appears to be his for as long as he wants it living in one of the greatest cities in the country, whilst not really having to work all that hard (and with enough connections to guarantee a great post-politics job once out of office)?  Why trade that for the insanity of the presidential campaign and life in Washington, DC (especially if the economy is likely to remain a problem for the foreseeable future)?

The article is primarily about attempts by Perry at reforming the flagship universities in Texas (and also makes some interesting side observations about Texas’ political institutions).  I will leave those issues aside for the moment.


*While I have not lived in Texas for 13ish years now, I am from the state, did live there for quite some time, and taught Texas Politics for a while in the mid-to-late 1990s.  As such, I have more than a passing interest and knowledge of state politics.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    Empty Suit with good hair.

  2. reid says:

    That quote seems applicable to the GOP in general.

  3. Doubter4444 says:

    Rick Perry reminds me of the character played by Martin Sheen in The Deadzone.

  4. Boyd says:

    @Steven, Paul Burka of Texas Monthly has a different take on the Texas Governor’s power during Perry’s incumbency:

    4. Texas is not a “weak governor” state. A common misconception. It used to be true, but during his historic governorship, Perry has reinvented the office as a power center. This may be his greatest accomplishment. Yes, our state constitution, written the year before Reconstruction ended, created a weak governor’s office (as did most constitutions of the states of the former Confederacy). We had two-year terms (the Legislature changed it to four-year terms beginning with the 1974 election) and a fragmented executive department with power divided among the governor, the lieutenant governor, the comptroller, the land and agriculture commissioners, the attorney general, and the railroad commission. But Perry has used his appointment power to install political allies in every state agency, effectively establishing a Cabinet form of government and making him vastly more powerful than any of his predecessors. In this regard, the Texas politician he most resembles is LBJ, who, Robert Caro reports, once told an assistant, “I do understand power, whatever else may be said about me. I know where to look for it and how to use it.” Rick Perry, to a tee.

    Regardless of its accuracy, the entire article is an interesting read.

  5. @Boyd: At Boyd, that is a fair point and was roughly what I was referring to when I made an oblique reference to “and also makes some interesting side observations about Texas’ political institutions.”

    The appointment power has always been the Texas gov’s most formidable one, and Perry’s longevity in office has certainly enhanced the power quite a bit.

  6. Boyd says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’ve been too busy conversing (oh, and working. Yes! That’s it! I’m working!) to actually read the article you linked, but I’ll get to it shortly. Having returned to Texas from the DC area earlier this year, it will be interesting to read what the Post has to say about Perry.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “Naturally, when it comes to voting, we in Texas are accustomed to discerning that fine hair’s-breadth worth of difference that makes one hopeless dipstick slightly less awful than the other.”

    Molly Ivins

  8. hey norm says:

    I’m holding my own day of prayer…PALIN/PERRY ’12

  9. Geoff says:

    No matter how empty the GOP suits are, it’s becoming increasingly apparent they are winning. Even with Obama in the White House and the Dem’s having a majority in the Senate, the Republican’s are controlling the agenda in Washington.

  10. Boyd says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Having finally read the WaPo piece, I’m a little surprised that the author didn’t mention Governor Perry’s establishment of WGU-Texas, although that announcement might have happened after her deadline.

    At any rate, WGU-Texas seems to be the Governor’s vehicle for achieving his goal of offering a bachelor’s degree for $10,000. This seems much more reasonable than trying to offer it through UT or A&M.

  11. @Boyd: I saw a headline about that the other day and need to read up on it myself.

    But yes: some of the proposal for UT and A&M simply don’t make sense if what the state wants are true top tier universities.

  12. ponce says:

    *cough* George W. Bush. jr. *cough*

  13. Tylerh says:


    You’re both right.

    By constitutional design, the Governor is the third-most powerful elected official in Texas. For example many of W’s accomplishments as Governor of Texas were achievements of the late Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby.

    However, “Governor Goodhair” has been an unusually powerful governor because of his long tenure and focused appointments of like-minded allies to the committees that do run the state.

    Those appointments are going to be a strength in the Republican primaries and a liability in the general election. Google “Perry creationism” for but one of many examples.

    Full Disclosures: I’m a Native Texan and a Longhorn Engineer.

  14. hey norm says:

    @ Ponce…
    I have all kinds of problems with Rick Perry, and the idea that his Texas is a model of what the United States should be.
    But Bush 43 is a New Haven blue blood pretending to be a Texan (among other things). All belt buckle and no cattle. The guy is actually afraid of horses.
    Perry is at least genuine in that respect…even if he has no other admirable qualities that I can find.

  15. ponce says:

    Perry is at least genuine in that respect…even if he has no other admirable qualities that I can find.

    Perry has worked for the government his entire adult life (and become a millionaire in the process).

    That seems about as anti-Texan as he could be.

  16. Skippy-san says:

    President Perry will assure us that tax cuts are the best way to generate revenues for our nuclear war against Iran. And the GOP majorities in both houses will agree.

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Molly Ivins

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

    Wow, quoting Molly Ivins is the quickest way to popularity I have ever seen. If I had known that I would have quoted her in high school…. wait a minute, I think when I was in high school, she was in grade school…. Quoting a 9 yr old girl never got anybody laid. Oh well….