Stateside,  Vote 2012

Other Rick! Other Rick! Other Rick!*

Texas Governor Rick Perry is the latest (and perhaps last) candidate to enter the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

A few things about Perry and his governorship:

–He may be the only major Presidential candidate in history to suggest that states have the right to secede from the Union.

–He advocates dismantling Social Security and Medicare as federal programs– not necessarily a winning position among America’s senior citizens.

–A devout evangelical Christian, Perry hosted a day of prayer in Houston on August 6, featuring some pastors with bizarre views. A spokesman for the event, denying it was exclusively Christian, said it was open to people of all faiths to “feel the love, grace, and warmth of Jesus Christ.”

–He believes “it’s time for us to just hand [America’s problems] over to God and say, ‘God, You’re going to have to fix this.’ ”

–He would have us believe that Texas’s lack of an income tax and lax regulations (except when it comes to the right to sue) have produced a remarkable economic boom. But as The New Republic reported in July (subscription required):

Texas, economists note, …hasn’t always thrived—between 2008 and 2010, after the U.S. economy collapsed, the state’s unemployment rose faster than in high-tax Massachusetts. In May, Texas’s unemployment rate, at 8 percent, ranked twenty-fourth in the country, slightly worse than liberal New York’s. [It’s now up to 8.2 percent, compared to 8 percent for New York.] What’s more, not all of those vaunted jobs are great jobs: Texas has the highest percentage of minimum-wage workers in the country, and its per-capita income still sits below California’s.

What is clear is that Texas’s population has been exploding, leading to disproportionate job growth. In the past decade, the state added more people than anywhere else, partly due to fast-growing Hispanic families, but due also to migration from other states. So why are people flocking to Texas? It could be the state’s lower taxes, though that probably isn’t a big driver: As Brad DeLong of University of California, Berkeley, has noted, Texans pay, on average, 26 percent of their income in taxes, not much lower than the 28.5 percent average in California.

More likely, people are moving to Texas because housing is so affordable. In a 2006 survey by the Census Bureau, Texas ranked forty-second in the cost of housing. Conservatives can take some credit—by and large, it’s easier to build houses in Texas’s biggest cities, with fewer land-use and zoning hassles, according to Harvard economist Edward Glaeser.

But conservatives shouldn’t be too triumphal. Texas didn’t suffer from a ruinous housing bubble like nearby Arizona and Nevada, thanks to regulations that limited debt on homes and restricted “cash-out” refinancing (a common practice in states like Florida and California, in which people got free cash for refinancing their homes). As a result, Texas didn’t fare as badly when the housing market cratered this time: Only 6 percent of Texas borrowers were in or near foreclosure, versus a national average of nearly 10 percent. Two cheers for intrusive regulations.

Other aspects of Texas’s success come down to sheer luck. The state is home to large oil and gas reserves. As oil prices have climbed over the past decade, new rigs have sprouted up like toadstools, while the natural-gas craze has led to economic booms in North Texas and the Eagle Ford Shale near San Antonio. The Dallas Fed has found that, every time oil prices rise 10 percent, Texas gets a 0.5 percent GDP bump. That’s hardly something other states can replicate.

Then there’s the uglier side of Perry’s rule. The state is looking at a staggering $27 billion deficit for 2012-2013. Perry managed to paper over Texas’s last budget shortfall by taking $6.4 billion in Obama stimulus money, more than all but two governors. (At the same time, he was suggesting Texas should secede from the union.) Now, without Democrats in Congress to bail him out, Perry and other Republicans in Austin are proposing big cuts to Medicaid and education—this in a state where 26 percent of people are uninsured, the highest percentage in the United States.

–In April Perry urged Texans to pray for rain to end an extreme drought in the state. Unfortunately the drought has continued. But if a higher power hasn’t come through yet, at least the dreaded federal government has: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designated all of Texas as eligible to apply for Farm Service Agency assistance, making emergency loans available to farmers and ranchers for eight months.

–Meanwhile Perry vows to “work every day to make Washington, DC, as inconsequential in your life as I can.” Whatever that means.

As Perry enters the race for the Republican nomination, Tim Pawlenty– former MAN OF DESTINYbows out.

Update: As Perry campaigns for the Republican nomination, questions are sure to arise over his (since overturned) 2007 executive order requiring 11- and 12-year-old girls in Texas to receive the anti-HPV vaccine Gardasil, which had been on the market for less than a year and about which questions are now being raised as to harmful side-effects.

(Hat tip: Andrew Murphy)

*Perry is the second Rick to enter the contest for the GOP nomination.

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