The Brief: Top Texas News for Dec. 19, 2011

Gov. Rick Perry's bus for his 16-day tour of Iowa
Gov. Rick Perry's bus for his 16-day tour of Iowa

The Big Conversation:

A fresh controversy threatened to knock Rick Perry's Iowa bus tour off course over the weekend.

The Tribune's Jay Root reported Friday that Perry filed paperwork last week revealing that he collects both a salary and a pension from the state of Texas.

Perry officially retired in January so he could start collecting pension benefits of about $7,700 per month. But he still collects his $150,000 salary as governor, putting his gross annual salary at about $240,000.

Perry and his aides called the maneuver perfectly legal, saying his age, military service and state service make him eligible for the pension benefits under the Texas Government Code.

“I would be surprised why someone would not take a retirement that they were eligible for," Perry said. "It's just kind of good estate planning, in my opinion."

But critics said the move undermines Perry's frequent attacks on entitlement programs and calls to cut the salaries of members of Congress.

"We've never heard of this," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based liberal watchdog group, adding: "He raises questions about excessive perks and the revolving-door lobby and says he wants to cut congressional salaries. This guy needs to look at his own front porch and clean it up before he goes after Washington."

Jeff Rotkoff, who has consulted the anti-Perry political action committee Back to Basics, said state employees upon retirement generally must sign sworn termination agreements specifying that their pensions will be canceled if they stay on the payroll after retiring.

"Texans — and the American public — deserve to know if Perry signed his name to an agreement that he not remain on state payroll or be immediately rehired after his retirement," Rotkoff said. "If he did, it is appropriate to ask if he committed perjury, or if he owes Texas taxpayers a refund."

Questions over fracking and gay rights also threatened to trip the governor up over the weekend. As the Trib's Reeve Hamilton reports, after a largely hitch-free weekend of campaign stops and church visits, Perry on Sunday met a less enthusiastic crowd in Decorah.

The bumps came just as Perry — in the midst of a grueling two-week, 40-plus-city Iowa bus tour — is hoping to claw his way back into the top tier of candidates. Perry recently said a fourth-place finish in Iowa wouldn't cause him to drop out of the race.

Culled:

  • The Texas primaries have been moved from March 6 to April 3. The state Democratic and Republican parties agreed on Friday to the unified primary date, and a three-judge panel in San Antonio then approved the proposal, averting the split primary that had been proposed in light of the ongoing state redistricting drama. As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey writes, though, with no decision yet on the maps, many candidates aren't even sure in which districts they're running.
  • The Perry campaign has cut $70,000 from its Iowa ad purchase, Politico reported Saturday. Though that still puts the governor's buy at over $300,000 for each of the next two weeks, Politico notes that trimming ad buys usually signals financial trouble.
  • Ron Paul has taken the lead in Iowa, according to the latest Public Policy Polling survey. Paul claims 23 percent of the vote to Mitt Romney's 20 percent, inside the margin of error. The numbers spell trouble for Newt Gingrich, whose support has fallen to 14 percent from 27 percent two weeks ago and 22 percent last week.
  • The Des Moines Register, the largest newspaper in Iowa, endorsed Mitt Romney over the weekend, praising his "sobriety, wisdom and judgment," which "help the former Massachusetts governor stand out as the most qualified Republican candidate competing in the Iowa caucuses." The newspaper's nod, as The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight notes, has a mixed track record of predicting caucus results.
  • Retired Lt. Gen. Ric Sanchez, the only major Democrat in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, has dropped out because of "personal challenges" and fundraising difficulties, The Associated Press reported. "I am very grateful for the strong support and encouragement I have received from supporters across the country and the wonderful Texans I have met in every part of our great state," Sanchez wrote in an email to supporters on Friday. "However, pressing personal challenges, coupled with the recent loss of our home due to fire and lagging fundraising numbers make a statewide election campaign impractical for me at this time." The official filing period for candidates ends today, but the ongoing legal fight over redistricting has pushed the deadline to Feb. 1.

"She doesn’t like Muslims. She hates them. She wants to go get 'em."Ron Paul, during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, on Michele Bachmann

Must-Read:

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.