Eric Bearse hates that his name is in this sentence.
But the political consultant, who’d much rather operate in the background, may be the best evidence yet that there’s real and true harmony between Attorney General Greg Abbott — rumored to have designs on the Governor’s Mansion — and Gov. Rick Perry — the man who hasn’t announced whether he wants to keep occupying it.
He’s on both of their political campaign payrolls, and has been consistently for the last 10 months.
“I expect they’ll be friends and allies for years to come,” Bearse said from his Austin office, visibly uncomfortable that he — not one of his bosses — was the subject of a reporter’s attention.
It’s no secret that Abbott would like to succeed Perry. And Perry has said he won’t announce his re-election plans until the summer. But whether there is some spoken or unspoken agreement between them was unknown until late last month, when Perry told WFAA-TV in Dallas that Abbott had agreed not to run against him in the GOP primary if he decided to seek another term.
When reporters sought comment from Abbott, they got a vague statement from his campaign spokesman — Bearse — acknowledging only that “Gov. Perry and Gen. Abbott are close friends, and talk frequently.” The most telling detail of the entire exchange, the one that seemed to assure that Abbott and Perry won’t run against each other in 2014, was that Bearse was serving as Abbott’s spokesman.
Bearse has long been a Perry guy. He started with Perry during his 1998 bid for lieutenant governor, and worked for him on campaigns and on his government staff as a speechwriter until 2007, when Bearse started his own political consulting firm. He helped write Perry’s 2008 Boy Scout book, On My Honor.
Bearse, who temporarily suspended his own firm’s business in 2011 to work on Perry’s presidential campaign, has been on the gubernatorial campaign payroll since Perry bowed out in South Carolina, at a rate of $4,000 a month, according to Texas Ethics Commission filings. These days, his work for the governor is largely political writing; over the years, he’s written close to 2,000 speeches for Perry.
At the same time, Bearse is also on Abbott’s payroll, and has been on a per-project basis for several years. After Perry’s failed bid for the presidency, Bearse signed on with Abbott in a formal campaign communications role, which has paid him $5,000 a month since March.
Bearse doesn’t just work for Perry and Abbott; his laundry list of Republican clients also includes Comptroller Susan Combs ($3,000 a month) and House Speaker Joe Straus ($5,000 a month), in addition to some other lawmakers. In Texas, the fact that Republicans hold all statewide offices is “mostly a blessing, and at times a curse,” Bearse joked; it can be a hard for a consultant to gauge who might run against whom down the road.
“You can twist your mind around a lot of hypotheticals,” he added.
Bearse has navigated such complicated political waters in the past. When he left the governor’s office in 2007, he took on Straus, then a second-term member, as an occasional client. Shortly after, he gained a regular client, then-House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland. Bearse wasn’t working on any projects for Straus in early 2009, when the San Antonio Republican unseated Craddick to take over the speakership. But shortly afterward, Bearse found himself off of Craddick’s payroll, and landed back on Straus’s.
Bearse puts his concurrent work for Perry and Abbott in a different category: uncomplicated. “Because they’re great friends and allies, there is no conflict,” he said. “It works out very well.”
His strategy in business, he said, is to be helpful to Republican candidates in their current capacities, and to stay on his toes in the event that circumstances and party dynamics change.
“While they may have different shades of conservativism, of Republicanism,” he said of his clients, “they’re all working to advance our state.”