Notes from the Republican State Convention
Sun June 15, 2008 1:07 pm

I spent the day at the convention on Friday. The first thing I saw on the way into the convention hotel was signs and stickers saying:

Paul
Perry

What was going on here? I wondered. Were the Ron Paul folks advocating a national ticket headed by their man and completed by the governor? Nothing so interesting. Someone named Paul Perry was challenging incumbent RPT chairman Tina Benkiser. She won easily--not that it matters. The party chairman only matters if he or she is an effective fundraiser. The last chairman who fulfilled that description was Fred Meyer of Dallas, and the right wingers couldn't wait to kick him out as soon as they got the chance, which was 1996.

Probably the biggest topic of conversation among the delegates I talked to was whether Governor Perry was serious about running again in 2010. He had spoken the day before, and while his remarks certainly sounded like those of a candidate, he did not say whether he was running or not. Since he has publicly announced his intention to run, some folks at the convention interpreted his omission of his future plans as a sign that he wasn't serious. But the timing wasn't right for Perry. He was speaking the day BEFORE Kay Bailey Hutchison, and she was going to get the last word, whatever he said. But Perry got his licks in. He praised John Cornyn but did not mention KBH.

Perry had been allocated 15 minutes (I was told) and spoke for 40. He was accompanied by a band and trumpeters. The veteran GOP political hand who related this to me described the scene as "over the top." "People were fascinated and repelled," he said.

These were Perry's closing remarks. They seem deliberately ambiguous, almost tantalizing concerning (or not concerning) his future plans:

Working together, marching in the same direction, celebrating our shared values, the Republican Party of Texas can continue the transformation of the greatest state in the nation. Together, we will harmonize our differences. Together, we will focus on our goals. Together, we will march to victory in 2008 and beyond. Let’s march on together. Let’s serve together. Let’s win together! I’ll see you on the battlefield.

The governor devoted a major portion of his address to the state's bullish economic climate. This has become a major theme in his pre-reelection campaign, if indeed that is what it is.

Texas is the nation’s leading exporter and has become the home to more Fortune 500 headquarters than any other state. We’ve been identified as one of the top places in the country to start or run a biotechnology company. And CEOs across America point to Texas as the best state to do business. The Texas economy is attracting companies and jobs the way a porchlight draws junebugs.

These companies coming to Texas are bringing with them investment, innovation and, most importantly, jobs for Texans. Just last year, small businesses in Texas hired more than 150,000 people, meaning we now have more than 5.3 million people working for Texas small business owners.

Since 2003, our state has created more than 1.2 million net new jobs. That many people would fill up Reliant Stadium 17 times. Of all the jobs created in the United States over the past year, more than half of them were created right here in Texas.

No matter how you cut it, that’s great economic news, and none of it happened by accident.

Fact is, the seeds for today’s economic success were sown in some very tough decisions made by conservatives like you: the Republican majority and Republican leadership you put in power back in 2003. We started that year with a $10 billion deficit. Some of the loudest voices in the media and across the legislative aisle told us to raise taxes or the state would fall down around our ears.

Well, we didn’t listen to them because we knew better. Some states with similar challenges tried to TAX their way out a hole. In Texas, we decided to GROW our way out of the budget deficit. In 2003, while we were cutting general revenue spending for the first time since World War Two, California issued $35 billion in debt, and New York RAISED taxes by $2.9 billion.

Fast-forward five years and California is looking at taking on even more debt to cover a deficit in the neighborhood of $15 billion, and New York is finally considering spending cuts, including $1 billion in healthcare spending.

How much of the credit should Perry get for the robust economy? He did provide some incentives for business with his economic development and technology funds. Some worked out; some didn't. Tort reform, which is good for business, happened on his watch. He has resisted draconian restrictions on immigration, which helps the state's economy. But in the long run, economic growth occurs because of fundamentals that operate outside the realm of government. Texas has enjoyed major population growth, and the cost of living in the three big metro areas is cheap compared to other cities.

Perry also called for a Voter ID bill ("You need a photo ID to cash a check…you need a photo ID to get a marriage license…and if you were at the Democrat[ic] Convention last week you would have had to present your ID to get your credentials. Why is it the Democrats think voter identification is necessary for their party’s elections, but don’t think the same way about a general election?"), increased border security, and a tougher cap on state spending. "If we don’t enact a real spending cap when times are good, when will we?" Perry said. That is a stupid comment. You tighten your belt when times are bad and you can't afford to spend, and you increase spending in good times. It is also stupid policy. In the latest year for which I could find figures, state fiscal year 2006, Texas ranked 49th among states in per capital spending, behind only Nevada.

Another tantalizing excerpt from Perry's speech was his criticism of his own party, in between his broadsides at Democrats:

I must admit that I am troubled by the divisiveness that is damaging our national party from the ground up and the top down. I won’t sugarcoat it: at the national level, our party has lost its way. The lack of fiscal discipline has been disheartening to all of us who know that it is the bedrock of the Republican Party. But we need to stick together and remember who our opponent is.

Here is where Perry most sounds like a candidate: "Alone, one person can only do so much…but one person can raise a rallying cry. No matter how hard any of us might labor in solitude, with our God-given gifts and talents, and the sweat of our brow, we will be limited in our impact. Like a musical instrument with a unique and pleasing tone, we can only do so much alone. But, if you assemble these instruments under the direction of an inspired leader, with an agreed upon song, and a common purpose, you’ll have more than a mob; you have a movement A movement whose siren sound can stir the soul, a cause that can inspire an army to charge the next hill."

Does anybody want to venture a guess as to the inspired leader Perry might have in mind?

* * * *

Hutchison's speech was more of a classic convention raw-meat stemwinder that offered cheerleading for John McCain, attacks on the Democrats, and some really bad jokes. She reenacted some of her lines from the Gridiron Dinner, when she offered some advice for making the transition home a little easier:

In Washington, when you plan your daughter's wedding, you check the dates of the state dinners. In Texas, you better check the high school football schedule.

At the zoo in Washington, the cage has the name of the animal and then the name in Latin. In a Texas zoo, we have the name of the animal, and then the recipe.

I hate Texas stereotype jokes, but we couldn't have a magazine if it weren't for the stereotype.

Then she touted her "friend of the court" brief to the U.S. Supreme Court urging the justices to restore an individual's right to own a firearm in Washington, D.C. "Even Dick Cheney, as president of the Senate, signed it. I know Dick agrees with me that it is every American's right to be shot by the vice-president."

But it wasn't only the Democrats whom she blasted:

As Texans, and as Americans, we must be vigilant against overbearing government measures ... that undermine our freedoms. That is why I am fighting against tolls on highways that have already been paid for by Texas taxpayers. These initiatives are a violation of the public trust. And that's why I strongly oppose the Trans-Texas corridor. Earlier this week the Texas Department of Transportation agreed with me and over 28,000 other Texans that the expansion of I-69 will uitilize existing rights-of-way. Thank goodness!

People who heard both Perry's and Hutchison's speeches told me that hers was received more favorably than his. He got a good reception, but she got a prolonged standing ovation. Perry got standing O's when he boosted McCain and when he mocked the Democrats' energy policy.

Dewhurst also came out against the Trans-Texas Corridor, but when he called for IDs with a thumb print, he was roundly booed, presumably by the Ron Paul people. (This happened on Thursday, and I was not present.)

I did not hear Newt Gingrich speak--I had walked over to Minute Maid Park to buy a ticket for the Yankees and the Astros that night--but I did hear Mike Huckabee. He is very good and very folksy, as I guess everybody knows by now. He used the device of talking about "Huck Town," where Americans live according to conservative Republican values. "Big government is the result of a breakdown of moral values," he said. I can't quite follow the logic, but when he says it, you listen.

One other point of note: Dan Patrick was very visible at the convention. In a part of the convention center that was apart from the area where the convention business was going on, he was broadcasting on his radio station. John Cornyn joined him for an interview. Patrick was in his element here. He was able to influence the platform, which was described to me by the veteran of Republican political wars I mentioned earlier, as the most conservative the RPT has ever adopted. All of Patrick's issues are in there--immigration, eminent domain, appraisal caps, the business tax. That doesn't mean that he will be able to pass any bills in the Senate, but he is a force to be reckoned with in the Republican party.

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