Gov. Rick Perry said Monday that it was appropriate for Texas taxpayers to pick up the expense of his security even if costs shoot up dramatically while he travels around the nation running for president.
“We’re still going to have a protective detail that travels with us,” Perry said. “I think that’s kind of a diversion.”
It was the first time in weeks that Perry, who had back surgery on July 1, took questions from the Texas Capitol press corps. Perry spoke with reporters after a bill-signing ceremony to mark passage of a bill expanding managed care and making other cost-saving changes to Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor and disabled.
Perry took several questions about comments he made over the weekend to the Des Moines Register. The governor told the paper in first-test Iowa that he felt as if he were being “called” to run for president, prompting some critics to conclude that he was attaching a religious connotation to his decision-making process.
Perry downplayed those remarks at the Texas Capitol Monday. He said his use of the word “called” should be taken more literally, comparing it to a call to his mother — or calls from gobs of friends and would-be supporters who think he should get in the race.
“There are people calling from all across this country, either to me directly or to people that they know, and saying we wish you would consider doing this.” Perry said in the weekend interview that he expected a decision in two to three weeks.
Perry also sought to put some distance between himself and some of the people promoting his prayer and fasting event in Houston, called "The Response," on Aug. 6. Perry organized the event, which is being sponsored by the American Family Association. One of the spokesmen for the group, anti-gay activist Bryan Fischer, has been quoted as saying that homosexuality “gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews."
The governor told reporters that he treats comments from supporters of The Response the same way he might approach people who endorse him in an election.
“I appreciate anybody that’s going to endorse me, whether it’s on The Response or whether it’s on a potential run for the presidency of the United States,” Perry said. “Just because you endorse me doesn’t mean I endorse everything that you say or do.”
Perry said he was undergoing a careful “thought process” before deciding whether to launch a presidential bid. But he’s beginning to get the kind of attention that follows presidential candidates around.
A huge contingent of reporters watched Perry's every public move Monday, when he held three otherwise routine press conferences to mark the passage of bills impacting law enforcement and health care, along with an announcement about the expansion of a video game producer in Austin.
Perry didn’t take questions until the final event at the Capitol, where authorities had added a new door outside the governor’s press office. Perry spokesman Mark Miner said it was designed to enhance security. It still smelled like fresh varnish on Monday afternoon.
“It’s a security measure, an added security precaution to the governor’s office,” Miner said.
On Tuesday, a group of donors is traveling to Austin to discuss presidential fundraising prospects for Perry. The governor is not attending the afternoon meeting but might go to a dinner with possible donors Tuesday night, Miner said.
Security costs are sure to go up if Perry gets in the race. When former Texas Gov. George W. Bush began running for president, state security costs skyrocketed, shooting past $1.8 million in 1999 — more than a sixfold increase from the previous year. Perry has said he is considering entering the 2012 presidential race but has not yet made a decision.
Perry said if he runs for president, or doesn’t, taxpayers will be getting a benefit because he will be promoting his home state.
“I’m going to be promoting Texas. I’m going to be traveling. I’m going to be traveling internationally. I’m going to be traveling to places where the Texas story needs to be told and we will tell it,” Perry said.
Perry was also asked if he had dealt with the question of resigning his current job to seek the presidency.
“No,” he said.
“If you run, you will not resign?” the reporter asked.
“I’m not dealing with the question,” Perry answered.