Perry’s Place

Senior executive editor Paul Burka tells the story behind this month's cover story, "Can Rick Perry Stand on His Own?"

texasmonthly.com: Why Rick Perry now? Why not wait until we get a little closer to the election?

Paul Burka: Timing is very important in choosing magazine covers. We have seen over the years that the public’s interest in politics rises and falls over the course of the ten months between the early January filing deadline and the November general election. We chose the February issue because it coincides with one of the peaks of public interest, which occurs right after the filing deadline, when the lineups are set and candidates begin to kick off their campaigns. The long period between the March primaries and Labor Day is usually a trough of relative inactivity. Another reason to do the story now is that the role of magazines is to provide context for understanding the news, as opposed to the role of newspapers, which cover the news. Part of the context for this campaign is that Rick Perry is following a very popular governor and is still struggling to establish his own identity. Other reasons for doing the story now: (1) It allows us to cover the Democratic primary races that are an important part of this election season; (2) Toward the end of the election season, the races are moving targets that are hard for a monthly magazine to cover; and (3) Finally, it always helps to have a cover line that seems to go with the timing, and the Valentine’s Day reference of “Will We Learn to Love Rick Perry?” works well.

texasmonthly.com: Do you think the public has learned to love Rick Perry? Why or why not?
PB: He is running well ahead in the polls, but that may indicate that the opponent against whom he is matched, Tony Sanchez, has been slow to get involved in the race, rather than that he has a large personal following. For a year Governor Perry has been in the awkward position of following a popular governor (actually two popular governors) without the benefit of a mandate that comes from winning an election. For him, the objective of this campaign is not only to win but also to build a constituency that is loyal to him. So the answer to your question is, Not yet.

texasmonthly.com: What do you think are Perry’s best traits? His worst traits?
PB: He is extremely personable, and he wants to “do the right thing,” which means make Texas a better place. I don’t want to say that something is his “worst” trait, because that makes it sound like a character defect. But I would say that his biggest problem is timidity, perhaps a lack of confidence, that inhibits him from stepping out as a leader or taking even small political risks. My impression is that many of his friends would say the same thing.

texasmonthly.com: Why do you think Dan Morales jumped into the governor’s race?
PB: Some people say that he is trying to force the hand of the feds, who have been investigating him for years over the disposition of legal fees in the tobacco lawsuit. Politics are like that. Everybody is always looking for a hidden agenda. He doesn’t need a hidden agenda, though. He shows up great in the polls, he has a message (saving the tobacco money for health care), and he has an opponent who hasn’t looked very sharp and whose Democratic credentials are suspect … I think he thought he could win, and if he can raise some money, maybe he will be proven right. Politicians don’t enter races to be embarrassed, even if it’s good legal strategy.

texasmonthly.com: Which race do you think will prove to be the biggest upset? Why?
PB: I don’t think that there will be any upsets. Texas is a Republican state now. I’m not sure that there are enough Democrats in Texas to elect anybody on the ticket. I have serious doubts that the hoped-for tidal wave of Hispanic votes will come through, this year at least. If politics were the stock market, I’d be investing in Republicans this year and Democratic futures.

texasmonthly.com: Despite the fact that Texas has seen a rise in minority residents over the years, we haven’t seen a lot of minorities in big races—until this year. Is there a particular reason why this is the year?
PB: Sure. It’s the man who wasn’t there. The year should have been 1990 and the candidate should have been Henry Cisneros. (Imagine what he would have done to Claytie Williams!) If Cisneros had had a successful first term, George W. Bush would still be running a baseball team, and Cisneros would have been the ideal Democratic nominee for president in the millennium against Governor Bush—Jeb, that is. Instead, Cisneros imploded, and the Republicans under George W. Bush fashioned the first ethnically diverse ticket. Bush backed Tony Garza for the Railroad Commission, Michael Williams for the Railroad Commission, and Alberto Gonzalez for the Supreme Court. Rick Perry’s court appointments have followed suit. Now the Democrats are out of power. They need votes and money to win, and that means a higher turnout from their Latino and African American base and a wealthy candidate who can finance his own race. That’s why Democratic strategists like John Sharp, who lost the lieutenant governor’s race to Perry in 1998, came up with the idea of getting a wealthy Latino (Sanchez) to run for governor and an African American (Ron Kirk) to run for Senate. But first they have to win their primaries.

texasmonthly.com: Do you have a different perspective of Perry after working on this story? Why or why not?
PB: I’ve known Perry since he was a state representative, and he has always been someone that I liked being around. He really understands politics. But I have also felt that he was too tied-in with the far-right element of the Republican party. In the course of doing this story, I got a different perspective of him; I came to think of him as still

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