Bush and Perry: Different Times, Different Politics

Watching Rick Perry can cause flashbacks. He sometimes does that head bob — the clucking chicken thing — that George W. Bush used to do during speeches. He’s got a twang — there’s no mistaking him for a Michigander. Both wear boots with suits. The Texas way of saying things is there, too, as in this coinage: "If you want to live in a state and in a country that doesn’t allow for over-suing, then I’m your guy."

Bush was against over-suing, too, but he called it tort reform. Both were governors of Texas, but Perry isn’t running the same government Bush was running in 2000. The problems, financial and otherwise, are different. The strengths of the two men are different. And the pitch is different, too.

Bush is a product of the Republican establishment and as much as he hates talking about political dynasties, how else would you classify a family that in three generations produced (so far) a U.S. senator, a congressman who became president and two big-state governors, one of whom went on to become the clan’s second president?

Perry, in spite of his 26 years in public office in Texas, has a Harry Potter-like ability to appeal to his party’s dissidents and insurgents — people more likely to greet a longtime government official with a raspberry than with a slap on the back.

Texas has been a red state for years, and solidly so since 1994, the election that put Bush in the governor’s office and the last statewide contest in Texas that put any Democrats in office. Not one has won since. But Bush had to deal with Democrats in powerful positions to a much greater extent than his successor.

 

Bush was governor for six years, sitting in the Texas Capitol’s middle office during three legislative sessions with Democrats serving as speaker of the House and as lieutenant governor. As governor, Perry had a Democrat in the speaker’s office for only one of his six legislative sessions, and he never suffered a Democrat in the lieutenant governor’s office. He also had only one session in which Democrats had a majority in either House, that being the first one, in 2001.

The state’s financial problems are worse now, and different, than when Bush was in office. Bush didn’t run as an anti-tax candidate, like Perry did, and he had some tools for financial problems that Perry doesn’t have (and apparently doesn’t want to have).

When Texas needed money in 1999, Bush proposed a package of taxes and tax changes that went into the legislative blender and came out as a combination of money-raising proposals he was willing to sign. Perry’s foray into the dreaded Valley of Tax came in 2006, when he proposed a huge package of state tax increases that were offset by big cuts in local school property taxes. The selling line was that it’s not a tax increase if it’s offset by a tax cut. Voters bought it: Perry won re-election later that year, beating three candidates, including the incumbent Republican state comptroller who’d been spanking him for the tax swap.

Bush’s tax, by comparison, didn’t have a political cost and didn’t raise a significant protest from the Democrat who was in the comptroller’s office at that time. Those were the uniter-not-divider days.

Bush’s strength as governor came from his willingness to compromise and an ability to get Democratic leaders to go along with him most of the time. Perry’s strength came from his willingness to fight and from his longevity. He vetoed 82 bills at the end of his first legislative session in a show of force that made lawmakers aware that he was willing to follow through when he didn’t like something.

And he’s been governor for 11 years. It takes six years to cycle through a full round of the appointments given to a Texas governor, and Perry has now appointed or reappointed virtually everyone on the boards and commissions that make up the executive branch. His former aides and allies populate the tops of the organization charts in those agencies, too. They’re the executive directors and policy and PR people appointed or hired by the boards Perry selected.

It’s a safe bet to say they’ll be doing their best not to embarrass the boss while he’s on the campaign trail.

Bush, like Perry, jogged for exercise. But there’s no evidence he was armed while he was running, or that he killed any varmits.

It’s a tomayto-tomahto thing. One says ky-oh-tee. The other says ky-oat.

 

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