Rick Perry on Homosexuality

I'm stunned that Rick Perry allowed himself to be drawn into a discussion of homosexuality in an appearance before the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, in the nation's most gay-friendly city. I thought he was far too seasoned a politician to make that kind of blunder. Apparently not. Here's what Perry said:

"I may have the genetic coding that I'm inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that. And I look at the homosexual issue in the same way."

Perhaps this should not come as a suprise because it reflects the thinking of the Texas Republican Party at large, which recently adopted a party platform that supports the legality of gay-conversion therapy. That platform reads, "We recognize the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy."

The Veepstakes

There are three Texan Republicans who may run for president in 2016--Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul (the senator from Kentucky, who grew up in Texas and appeared at the state Republican convention this weekend). I don't think any of them could make it across the finish line. But there is a real possibility that one of them could be the vice-presidential candidate. And the envelope, please...

Well, well, well

Yesterday the Texas Public Policy Foundation released a report on “The Real Texas Budget.” The purpose of the report, as expressed in the introduction, is to help Texans understand what our state government actually spends—a task that is more difficult than it should be because of “legislative tactics, insufficient reporting, and the complexity of the system.” The report is the result of “weeks of work,” according to TPPF’s Chuck Devore, and covers state spending trends since 2004. The first of its key findings, though, concerns state spending, a topic that has been much in the news lately: “Total Texas state government spending for 2014-15 is estimated to be $201.9 billion, a 9 percent increase over the previous biennium.”

The figure is right in line with what Texas’s most credible budget experts estimated at the end of last year. As the regular legislative session wound up, Politifact Texas asked several analysts, most of whom estimated that state spending for the 2014-15 biennium would be 8 to 9 percent greater than in the 2012-13 biennium. The Legislative Budget Board, for example, estimated that the state’s general spending in 2014-2015 would increase 8.3% from 2012-13 (PDF). Staff for Tommy Williams, the Republican from The Woodlands who chaired the Senate Finance Committee, pointed to the LBB’s estimate as a good heuristic, with the note that the LBB’s figure had not been updated to reflect a supplemental spending measure that had been passed just in the nick of time.  

The growth in state spending—let’s go ahead and call it 9 percent—was significant, but not out of line given the state’s population growth, and it didn’t break the state’s constitutional spending cap, which had been set at 10.71 percent. And the budget itself wasn’t controversial in the Legislature, which is, of course, controlled by Republicans; it passed both the House and the Senate with whopping majorities, and was signed by Rick Perry to general acclaim.

Lurking on the fringes, however, were a group of conservatives clamoring that the budget actually represented a 26 percent increase in spending for 2014-15 compared to 2012-13. That figure was a blatant misrepresentation, but one that gained a fair amount of traction, especially after the Wall Street Journal published an editorial, in June, harrumphing that the 26 percent surge in state spending amounted to a California-style spending spree that would put Texas on the road to serfdom. Opposition to the budget became a litmus test among conservatives, a factor that would be heavily weighed in the report cards some of them are elected to represent.

Where did the 26 percent figure come from? Well, it came from the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The same Texas Public Policy Foundation that just released a report estimating that state spending will increase 9 percent in the next biennium.

In other words, TPPF is now disavowing its own earlier analysis. In a way, I think we should let them; if people don’t have a chance to discreetly change their tune, there’s a greater risk that they’ll double down instead of trying to recalibrate. On the other hand, the 26 percent calculation was wrong, and damagingly so—damaging to the Republican party, to the cause of fiscal conservatism, and possibly to the state—so I think we need to take a moment to look at how they arrived at that figure, and what happened as a result.

The Next President From Texas . . .

Rick Perry's presidential ambitions have run into a formidable obstacle in his home state: fellow Texan Ted Cruz. This situation has been developing for some time, ever since Cruz defeated David Dewhurst in their race for U.S. Senate. The state's outspoken junior senator has eclipsed Perry in popularity and has a much higher national profile.

The Search for the Next UT System Chancellor

In the April issue, which went online today, I wrote a short piece about the search to replace outgoing UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and the news that Governor Perry had indicated to the board that it should consider Kyle Janek for the job. My story went to the printer two weeks ago (ah, print journalism!), but I spoke to several sources close to the board, close to UT, and close to the governor’s office.

Though Janek’s office at the Health and Human Services Commission did not respond to a request for an interview, well-placed sources told me that he has indicated through back channels that he will not go after UT-Austin president Bill Powers. I think that Perry has come to realize that Powers is going to outlast him, and Janek presents an opportunity for the governor’s priorities to be carried forward after he leaves office but in a way that represents a change from the direct engagement we saw under Chairman Gene Powell. But unlike Paul, I don’t believe that Janek is a slam dunk. Far from it, in fact: I think the current board will resist any appearance that it will reflexively follow Perry’s lead:

[C]onsider that while Perry has the power to appoint the regents, he has not had a lot of luck in persuading them to pick his people to run our public universities. In 2002, at his alma mater, Texas A&M, he wanted Phil Gramm installed as president; the board selected Robert Gates. When the chancellor position at UT came open in 2009, he backed John Montford; the board tapped Cigarroa. And last year, when Texas A&M was choosing an interim president, he endorsed an old colleague, Guy Diedrich; the board chose Mark Hussey. It’s tough to imagine he’ll have any better luck when he’s got one foot out the door of the Governor’s Mansion. “There is a perception that Governor Perry’s power has eroded as he approaches the end of his tenure,” says H. Scott Caven, a former UT regent chair.

As UT Likes It

What do the letters “UT” really stand for? Over the past few years, “University in Turmoil” might have been the best guess. That’s what happens when the governor barely conceals his desire to oust the president of the flagship campus and the UT System Board of Regents splits into factions over pretty much everything. Not exactly the idyllic scene of students sitting on a blanket under a live oak studying Shakespeare.

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