The Governor has responded in the last few days to the brutal killing of U.S. consular officials in Juarez by renewing his calls for more federal support for border security, including the use of surveillance drones on the Texas-Mexico border. Our surveys suggest that the Governor will find a very approving constituency for his public pronouncements. Immigration and, more recently, border security, have been consistently cited by Texans as important problems facing the state — particularly by Republicans.
In the February 2010 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, 14% of those polled chose "border security" as "the most important problem facing the State of Texas today," with another 16% choosing "immigration," for a total of 30%. The salience of these issues was higher among self-identified Republicans: 21% cited border security and 24% chose immigration among GOP respondent. By comparison, only 14% of Republicans chose "the economy" and 12% "unemployment," making border issues a larger concern than the economy for GOPers. It would appear that the governor's attention to the problem is music to the ears of the voters who just renominated him to run for another four-year term.
The Governor's recent pronouncements are only the latest in a string of declarations that have consistently cited border security as a federal responsibility, even as the Governor has taken credit for implementing a series of state actions to address crime on the border,as the Austin American Statesman’s PolitiFact Texas recounts.
As Brandi Grissom reported in the Tribune yesterday, the governor jabbed that "until the federal government fulfills its responsibility of securing our border, Texas will continue filling in the gaps." The day before, he asked, "How many Americans will have to die before our federal government takes serious action along the Texas-Mexico border?" (The Statesman's look at crime statistics suggests an unwitting urgency to Perry's poke, insofar as the governor's initiatives seem to have had little or no impact on border crime — or, at least, no one can tell for sure, given the apparently bogus numbers provided on the Perry campaign website.)
It's unclear in our surveys whether Texans consider "securing our border" or "taking serious action along the Texas-Mexico border" as federal or a state responsibilities. In statewide surveys asking about problems facing the U.S. and the state, Texans consistently seem to identify border issues as state rather than national problems. In the February 2010 survey that picked up the level of concern discussed above, when asked to choose "the most important problem facing the country today," border issues only barely moved the needle: only 2% cited immigration. This is far from definitive, but it does suggest that Texans may well see problems on the border as state issues, even if border security is by law primarily a matter of federal enforcement.
The governor's political radar is characteristically fine-tuned here, at least for the short term. His pronouncements in the days since the killings have enabled him to advertise his concern about issues that seem forever near to the minds of his voter base, while taking pot shots at his favorite target, the federal government. Never mind that no one — the voters, the governor, the U.S. government, the Mexican government — seem particularly effective at figuring out who should do what on the border amidst the latest metastasis of the international drug business. But one thing seems certain: If the governor gets his drone, the feds shouldn’t expect a thank-you note.