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Perry must offer more than catchphrases

Posted: August 16, 2011 - 8:10pm

The following editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

Here in Texas, we know a few things about Gov. Rick Perry. Foremost, he knows how to win. He has mowed down political opponents in a 27-year unbeaten streak, an impressive display of discipline and ability to read the winds.

Texas also knows that Rick Perry the officeholder is not at the same level as Rick Perry the candidate.

In nearly 11 years as governor, he has not been known for his problem-solving or innovation. Perry has instead established himself as a power governor who doesn’t like to be crossed, and many Texans are far more familiar with what he is against (like “Washington”) than what he is for.

Now the nation is getting an eyeful of what Perry does best — compete — with his entry into the GOP contest for president.

The stakes today are not only higher for him, but for the nation. That calls for Perry to do what hasn’t come naturally for him. The times call for solutions, not catchphrases or lines in the sand.

This nation has been unnerved by uncertainty over debt and a massive loss of jobs. People are hurting, their life savings bled away.

The answer is not merely asking the public to be in awe of the Texas low-tax, low-regulation model and live within our means as a nation. Yes, we balance our books here in Texas.

The state Constitution says we must, and the Legislature sees that it gets done every two years. Perry is often disengaged from that process and offers little imagination.

One year Perry’s chief contribution to Austin’s spending plan was political theater: His budget proposal to lawmakers was a 15-page document with line after line of zeroes.

Perry wanted to make a point about penny-pinching. But the stunt also revealed how involved the governor wanted to be in the details.

We saw that, too, in 2006, when lawmakers were staring at a court order to design a new system of paying for public education. Perry was a reluctant participant until his hand was forced. There were too many questions involving taxes, and Perry doesn’t like to be anywhere near that word.

President Barack Obama has been legitimately criticized in recent months for not being a man with a plan for getting out of the nation’s financial swamp. This will be the standard Perry must meet. He will have to take the political risk of laying out details.

The nation’s challenges also call for neutralizing a toxic atmosphere in Washington, and bringing sides together is not a Perry talent. He sometimes seems to revel in the opposite, in being a polarizing force.

He told Time magazine last week that a “clear focus of mine” would be working with Congress. Though a former Texas House member, this governor is not known for strong rapport with lawmakers in Austin. A budding LBJ Rick Perry is not.

Perry gave Democratic challenger Bill White a 13-point drubbing last year based on a status quo campaign. Re-elect me, he said, and Texas will keep doing fine.

Texas wasn’t exactly fine then, and the nation surely isn’t today. We know Perry is capable of a brilliant campaign pitch. We’d rather hear a clear prescription for what ails the nation.

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