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Pistol-Packing Texas Governor Had a Tea Party ‘Eureka Moment’

Texas Governor Rick Perry
Rick Perry, governor of Texas. Photographer: Patrick Semansky/Bloomberg

Americans are sick of too many taxes, too much regulation and being told they’re putting too much salt on their food, writes Texas Governor Rick Perry in his new book, “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington.”

Perry, a 60-year-old Republican in elected office since 1985, said visits to three Tea Party events on one day in 2009 inspired him to write the book, released this week.

“I saw people who were really scared for the first time in their lives that their government was so out of touch with them,” Perry said in an interview at the Republican Governors Association meeting in San Diego on Nov. 18. “That was my eureka moment.”

Perry, elected Nov. 2 to a third full term and the state’s longest-serving governor, was chosen at the meeting to lead the group, who now number 29.

His 220-page book is a catalog of what he considers federal overreach. He calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme and the Obama administration’s health-care bill “the closest this country has ever come to outright socialism.” Washington politicians, he argues, are stifling the nation.

“They’ve got to stop all these government-knows-best programs,” he said in the interview. “Quit telling us which light bulbs to have in our house, or which cars to drive, or how much salt we can put on our processed food. Why don’t you do all the things that are constitutionally directed, like defend our border?”

‘Stop Now’

Perry said that Representative John Boehner, a fellow Republican expected to be House majority leader in the new Congress, should push the idea of sending federal Medicaid grants to states without procedural requirements. That would halve health-care costs, Perry said, as states find economies.

“There will be innovation breaking out all over this country,” Perry said. “It’s the strings that are attached, Washington mandating how we can spend the money. The election was about, ‘You’re spending money we don’t have on programs we don’t want. Stop now.’”

Perry declined to estimate his own state’s expected budget shortfall, which the Dallas Morning News reported last month could reach $25 billion over the next two years.

“I can guess like everyone else is guessing,” Perry said. “But I’m not, because it’s irresponsible and premature.”

The second-largest U.S. state by population had a $10 billion deficit in 2003, Perry’s third year as governor, which it closed through spending reductions and increasing fees.

Easy Plan

Handling a shortfall is simple, Perry said: “You prioritize what is important to the people in the state and then you reduce spending without raising taxes.”

Many Texans are worried, Sherri Greenberg, a former Democratic state legislator who is a lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin, said Nov. 19 in a telephone interview.

“The business tax is falling short of what has been projected,” she said. “We’re not going to have the stimulus funding. You have that on top of an increasing Medicaid and elementary-school population.”

The state this week sold $1.1 billion in bonds at yields below 3 percent to reimburse the federal government for jobless benefits. Texas had an 8.1 percent unemployment rate in October, compared with a national level of 9.6 percent. Its general-obligation bonds are rated Aaa by Moody’s, the top classification, and AA+ by Standard and Poor’s, second-highest.

Texas, Perry said, will have a “good and vibrant and feisty” debate over its budget.

Running, Shooting

The son of cotton farmers from Paint Creek, Perry was an Air Force pilot before running for offices including agriculture commissioner and lieutenant governor, rising to governor after George W. Bush was elected president in 2000.

“Texans elect folks like me,” he writes in his book. “The kind of guy who goes jogging in the morning, packing a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow-point bullets and shoots a coyote that is threatening his daughter’s dog.”

In addition to the San Diego meeting and a book-signing, Perry met with representatives of more than six California companies to persuade them to relocate to Texas, he said. This year, 153 have done so, according to Perry.

California’s Democratic governor-elect, Jerry Brown, is going to have to cut spending and make his state more business-friendly, Perry said.

“You have to give those people who are paying the bulk of the taxes a reason to stay in the state,” he said. “There’s going to be some difficult days for California.”

Perry said New Mexico’s governor-elect, Suzanna Martinez, a fellow Republican, approached him in San Diego and said, “I’m going to steal your jobs.”

Said Perry, “She gets it.”

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