He was Dave Carney, Perry's chief political consultant, from New Hampshire, who is suspected of putting dreams of the vice presidency in Perry's head.
That's what Perry seemed to be auditioning for Tuesday, several legislators noted.
Some Democrats said parts of Perry's speech, like paying health insurance costs for 2 million uninsured Texans earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and spending $80 million to expand the "Early Start" pre-kindergarten program, sounded more like it was written for a Democrat than a Republican. Perhaps the governor was trying to appear a bit more moderate, though not too much.
And some Republican legislators were still reeling from Perry's recent surprise executive order to require teenage schoolgirls to be vaccinated for HPV, a virus spread through sexual contact that can cause cervical cancer. Perry repeated his support for the vaccinations in his speech, noting that parents of girls can choose to keep their daughters from being inoculated.
Democrats are suspicious that Perry did it as much for Mike Toomey, his friend and former chief of staff, a lobbyist for Merck. It manufactures the vaccine Gardasil, and the company is trying to recover from losses from Vioxx.
But some Democrats, such as Donna Howard of Austin, who is a nurse, applauded the move as important for women's health. Even the Texas Freedom Network, an organization primarily devoted to fighting far-right influence on school boards and using tax money for private school vouchers, also warmly endorsed Perry's action.
Some Democrats' mouths dropped open when Perry said he wanted to spend more state money on the insurance for the uninsured to leverage three federal dollars for each two state dollars spent, and to spend earmarked state tax and fee money for the purpose for which it was collected - like the sporting goods tax for state parks.
Many Democrats have long advocated spending more state dollars on health and insurance to bring down even more federal dollars, and resisted spending money collected for one purpose for other things. But that has been the choice the Legislature has been forced to make, by Perry's insistence during the shortfall in 2003 that the budget be balanced with cuts, not more taxes.
Several legislators felt Perry's call to spend taxes or fees earmarked for specific purposes rather than putting them in the general revenue fund was an attempt to shift all the blame to the legislators for the bookkeeping sleight of hand.
Another interesting proposal was Perry's call for $40 million for a Texas Technology Grant Program. It was Perry who decreed in 2003 that the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, funded by telephone surcharges passed on to customers, was no longer needed. That was the program to help schools, libraries and hospitals all across the state with technology development.
Perry did suggest some of that money be redirected to technology for students. Legislators, in trying to balance the budget, kept collecting the tax, but redirected the more than $200 million in annual income to other purposes. They have continued that habit.
Perry proposed following two other states investigating the sale of their state lotteries. He proposed using the presumed $14 billion selling price to set up permanent funds to provide help with health insurance for the uninsured, to provide a cancer research trust, and to increase the permanent endowment fund for public schools.
Legislators, and the senate's presiding officer, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, speculated the funds Perry is proposing wouldn't provide as much as the $1 billion-plus the lottery provides every year for public education.
Don't be surprised if the sell-the-lottery horse never gets out of the starting gate.
And the chances in 2008 for someone re-elected with just 39 percent, in a state the Republicans think they'll carry anyway, when Americans have had their fill for awhile of politicians from Texas, to get on a national ticket? The Perry-for- VP horse may never hear that starting bell.
Reach McNeely at email@example.com or (512) 323-0248.
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