Tea for Texas: Perry goes long
There he goes again. Gov. Rick Perry continues to pander to the right wing of his party, which he figures is his party's base vote. He figures if he survives the Republican primary in 2010 against probable challenger U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, he wins another four years as governor.
On April 15, in three different Texas cities at socalled anti-tax "Tea Parties," Perry, who has said he'll refuse $556 million in federal stimulus money for Texas' unemployment insurance fund, blasted the feds as over-assertive.
Perry hinted to reporters that Texas might think about seceding from the United States. That excited right-leaning talking heads, and drew yuks from "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno: "If Texas did secede from the union, then we could invade it for the oil."
Perry told reporters in Austin, after his first appearance:
"Texas is a unique place. When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.
"My hope is that America, and Washington in particular, pays attention. We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot, to boot."
Several scholars said Perry's contention Texas could secede is wrong.
Later in the day, Perry sought to soften things. He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
"America is a great country, and Texas wants to stay in that union and help our way out of this. I'm trying to make Washington pay attention to the 10th Amendment. We are Americans, proud Texans, and we will do everything we can to get America back on track."
However, the secession genie was out of the bottle, particularly since Perry's been badmouthing the feds for months, trying to undercut one federal official in particular: Sen. Hutchison.
Yet even as Perry was courting the right-leaning media, Republican state Sen. Kevin Eltife of Tyler, got tentative approval in the Senate for a bill to alter unemployment insurance rules enough to qualify for the stimulus dollars.
Eltife said it would "lessen the burden on businesses significantly," because they will not have to spend so much so soon to replenish the rapidly dwindling unemployment insurance fund. He said the money would help ease the strains on businesses for nine years.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, praised Eltife for carrying the bill, which passed the Senate 22-9 on second reading. It must pass on third reading to move on to the House.
Ellis called Perry "penny-wise and pound-foolish."
"I doubt most Texans think sending a half-billion of our tax dollars to other states while doing nothing to save the state's faltering unemployment trust fund is the best way to pull ourselves from this recession," Ellis said.
Ellis said Perry shouldn't even be talking about secession.
"By not rejecting out of hand the possibility of secession, Gov. Perry is taking a step down a very dangerous and divisive path encouraged by the fringe of Texas politics," Ellis said.
"Talking about state's rights, the oppressive hand of the federal government and secession brings up some pretty bad memories in this state," Ellis said. "It was not all that long ago that those were the exact words used by those who opposed desegregation and the civil rights movement. The top elected official in the second largest state with our history simply cannot be so loose with his comments. He's not a radio or cable TV talk show host."
Tom Schieffer, the former U.S. ambassador to Australia and Japan seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, questioned Perry's judgment.
"Talk of secession would be laughable if it weren't mentioned in a serious way," Schieffer said in a press release. "Texas certainly can't withdraw from the world. We can't withdraw from America. We can't roll up into a ball and pretend problems don't exist. This is not the time to build walls between Texas and the world. This is the time to find workable solutions to the problems we face."
To bring things full circle, singer/songwriter/ novelist/humorist Kinky Friedman says he's seriously pondering giving Texans another chance to vote for him for governor. Not as an independent, as he did in 2006, but as a Democrat -- a group he rained on then.
It's getting harder and harder to tell the comedians from the politicians.