Wednesday, August 24, 2011




No presidential candidate is hotter among California Republican activists today than Rick Perry, the Texas governor. Their infatuation with the jut-jawed, 27-year professional politician has extended to their pocketbooks for years, as Californians have donated more than $500,000 to his campaigns since 2002.

This is the same Gov. Perry who presides over what sometimes looks like a Texas war on California, with Perry himself writing letters to businesses advising them to leave this state. The same Perry who did nothing to curb the half-dozen Texas companies that bilked Californians out of more than $10 billion in illegally fixed electricity costs over the last decade.

Among deep-pocketed Californians helping keep Perry’s efforts going have been developer Alex Spanos of Stockton, lead owner of the San Diego Chargers football team, and his son Dean; the Orange County-based Fluor Corp., and Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s Energy Political Action Committee.

The attraction to Perry is partly based on his rugged, almost Ronald Reagan-esque looks, but also on the so-called “Texas Miracle,” in which his state gained substantial population and four congressional seats over the last 10 years, while adding about 200,000 jobs at a time when the rest of the nation lost millions.

But a closer look at that “Texas Miracle” reveals it as largely bogus. Many of the new jobs in Texas are low-paying, contributing to that state’s 18 percent poverty rate (almost 50 percent higher than California’s) and held by illegal immigrants, whose numbers there doubled to 1.7 million during Perry’s tenure (accounting for at least one of those new congressional seats). Does anyone think 850,000 illegals would have moved into Texas in the last decade if they weren’t getting jobs? Even pay for workers in the manufacturing sector, where illegals are unusual, ranks 38th among the 50 states, according to one report from a bipartisan Texas Legislature study group. And 26 percent of Texans have no health insurance.

Which means much of Perry’s reputation has been built on the backs of the very undocumented immigrants he rails against whenever he campaigns.

Similarly, Perry and other Texans ridicule California’s state budget woes, with the candidate portraying himself as a fiscal leader wherever he goes. But the Texas deficit of more than $10 billion last spring works out to about 25 percent more red ink per person than the California deficit of the same moment.

While California’s new budget largely spared schools from new cuts, about half the slashes in Texas (over $4 billion worth) came from public education, with class sizes rising in most Texas schools and the state’s public university systems taking bigger budget hits than the University of California and California State University systems.

At the same time, Texas is suffering through its worst drought since the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s, with Texas cattle ranchers forced to take huge losses by selling off herds early and trees dying for lack of water in the limestone-based soil of the Panhandle.

In California, ex-Gov. Pete Wilson preached water conservation and demonstrated how to take short “Navy showers” during this state’s drought of the 1990s. But Perry exercises virtually no leadership in his state’s crisis, which also has caused disastrous wildfires. His main effort: A statewide pray-for-rain session in April, which produced no discernible results.

Meanwhile, he calls global warming “contrived” and “phony,” even as many Texas-based scientists predict conditions are about to grow much worse.

There’s also the irony that the same Gov. Perry who in 2009 raised the notion of Texas leaving the Union now seeks to preside over that Union.

And there are hints of significant corruption. Several mid-August newspaper reports detailed Perry’s “crony capitalism,” which has seen the deficit-riddled Texas government give nearly $200 million to companies headed by his pals and contributors. Gray Davis' far smaller pay-to-play episodes were a major factor leading to his recall here in 2003.

And several of the so-called “independent” political action committees (which can spend unlimited sums) backing Perry’s presidential bid are run by former Perry aides. One such PAC, Veterans for Rick Perry that was founded by his former legislative director Dan Shelley, said on its initial statement of organization it will support only one candidate, Perry. It’s illegal for so-called Super PACs to explicitly support only one candidate. Other PACs backing Perry also are run by men tied closely to him, casting doubt on their independence.

There's more, too, and all of it means many Californians have not really understood what's beneath Perry's style. The bottom line: Californians now agog over the Texas governor may become disillusioned as they learn more about him, and so might many other GOP primary voters.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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