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Will Wildfire Response Burn Perry on the Campaign Trail?

As Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune reports, Gov. Rick Perry has a reputation of displaying strength in emergencies, but his recent behavior in responding to the Central Texas wildfires has struck some dissonant chords.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, c,  answers question from citizens and the media in Bastrop after his return from a campaign trip to South Carolina on September 5, 2011.

During Hurricanes Rita and Ike, and Tropical Storm Hermine, Gov. Rick Perry appeared authoritative, directing state agencies with quick, calm action. 

Last week, during the worst of the Central Texas wildfires, Perry made two public appearances, in Bastrop and Steiner Ranch. Then the governor quickly left for a debate and campaign appearances in California and elsewhere.

By Friday, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst stepped in. And in Bastrop on Friday, an angry person, who was not from Bastrop, yelled at the lieutenant governor asking where Perry was.

"I’m not sure exactly where he is at this moment," Dewhurst said.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

Perry also skipped a scheduled press briefing Saturday in Bastrop.

“People see that and they wonder whether or not he’s giving his full attention to his job as governor," said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. "They know the answer to that is no, but they wonder whether or not they should be concerned about it. I think Gov. Perry is at least neutral in his handling of these wildfires so far. Because coming home from South Carolina the way he did while the fires were at their hottest got him some credit. And now that those fires are coming into control, his being out of the state is less noticed then it might otherwise be." 

Jillson believes another fire-related stumbling block for Perry could come later. That’s when those affected by the fires can better process the fact that the state has traditionally underfunded rural firefighters — and that under the governor’s watch this spring, lawmakers cut the Forest Service budget by a third.

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State government David Dewhurst Griffin Perry Rick Perry State agencies