New York City
"Look up the definition of poaching,” Rick Perry told his press secretary Josh Havens. Perry was annoyed at being accused, in headlines and news stories and by Democratic governors, of trying to “poach” companies from blue states and carry them off to Texas, where he is governor.
Perry didn’t think the word applies to his forays—to California in February, Illinois in April, and last week to New York and Connecticut. Sure, he wants to lure companies to Texas, bringing thousands of jobs with them. But “poach”? Nope, not that. It sounds sneaky, illicit, or, at best, would still be hostile conduct by one governor toward the state of another.
Havens tapped into an online dictionary and read the definition to Perry: “to take fish or game illegally.”
“Or jobs,” Perry said.
He felt vindicated. His high-visibility raids are unprecedented for a governor, but they’re clearly not against the law. Perry likes football analogies. He told Steve Forbes, the publisher of the eponymous business magazine, his efforts are “straight up, off right tackle.” He’s compared them to a hypothetical recruiting trip by Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. “He flies in by helicopter to a small town to recruit a high school football star. He doesn’t quietly come in under the veil of darkness.”
Following the session with Forbes last week, Perry hurried across Manhattan to meet with Donald Trump. You’re trying to “grab all our people,” Trump teased. “Just giving them opportunity,” Perry replied.
After his freshman year at Texas A&M in 1969, Perry sold Bible-related books one summer in rural Missouri. “It took weeks before I sold my first books,” he says, but he learned salesmanship. “I look at myself just like a businessman trying to sell a product,” he says. Perry told Trump he’s selling the “opportunity” for business owners to flee the “high tax, high regulation, high litigation” environment of states like New York and thrive in a free market state that lets them keep more of the money they earn. Texas has no state income tax.
Perry is never bashful. When touting Texas as a safe haven for American business, he’s doing what no governor has done before. And he’s doing it with as much fanfare and buzz as possible. Some governors send letters, urging companies to pick up stakes and move. When Perry spent a day in Connecticut last week, he bumped into Dennis Daugaard, the Republican governor of South Dakota. Both were on economic missions. The Connecticut media latched on to Perry and ignored Daugaard.
Perry relied on Jeff Miller, a political consultant, lobbyist, and longtime friend, for advice in organizing the recruiting trips. Miller is a newcomer to Texas, having vowed to leave his native California if Republicans were crushed there again in the 2012 election. They were. He arrived in Austin on Christmas Eve.
The key to the Perry-Miller strategy is its focus on the big blue states (Connecticut was an afterthought) and advertising. Perry spent a meager $25,000 on radio ads in California, then benefited from Gov. Jerry Brown’s crack that the ad was “barely a fart.” Brown said the Perry visit was “not a story, guys.” But he made it one.
For his foray into Chicago, Perry spent $100,000 on radio spots. Again Democrats fell into his trap. Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel attacked Perry furiously. His visit became a major news story.
Perry and Miller figured New York would be different. A modest radio buy would be drowned out. So they spent $1 million on TV and radio spots that bragged about the business climate in Texas. The killer line: “If you’re tired of the same old recipe of over-taxation, over-regulation, and frivolous litigation, get out before you go broke.” Perry delivered the closer. “Texas is calling,” he said. “Your opportunity awaits.” The ads made a splash.
“Advertising works,” Perry says. “If it didn’t, people wouldn’t buy ad space. . . . We had different catch phrases for each state.” In California, it was: “Building a business is tough. Building a business in California is next to impossible.” In Illinois: “Get out while there’s still time.” In New York, it was the “go broke” line.
Accompanying Perry here were several dozen Texans from Texas One, a foundation that touts the state’s economy and pays for Perry’s trips and ads. A special Perry recruitment target was arms manufacturers who feel unwelcome in New York and Connecticut. At Colt Manufacturing, he fired pistols and rifles for 15 minutes. He also met privately with health care and financial management firms.
During Perry’s three days in New York, I joined him for most of his meetings, dinners, and speeches. Up close, Perry isn’t quite what I expected. He often notes he majored in animal science in college, but his interests have broadened as governor. He’s learned a lot about brain science. He knows a good deal about economics. After back surgery last year, he had to give up his cowboy boots. “My feet are happy,” he told Forbes. He made a point of being photographed under a storefront sign near Times Square. “Going Out of Business. Everything Must Go,” it read.
At one dinner, he sat next to Mark Teixeira, the Yankees first baseman who may run for office when his baseball days are over. Perry offered a piece of advice. “Mark, everybody loves you now,” Perry said. “You’re one of the best first basemen of all time. But the moment you announce, either as a Democrat or a Republican, half of those people are going to hate you.”
Perry had three goals for his trip. He succeeded, partially anyway, on two. In time, he may on the third. The first was to attract businesses to Texas. Perry insists it takes nine months from his pitch to a company’s decision to move. So we’ll have to wait on that. But Perry says he expects to hear this summer that an untold number of California companies are Texas-bound.
The second goal was to stir a national debate on “blue state versus red states policies.” Perry thinks he’s set this in motion and he may have. It should shine a favorable light on the Texas model of low taxes, light regulation, and less litigation—small government that works.
Perry didn’t acknowledge the third goal. It was a test of his skill as a potential presidential candidate after his disastrous performance in last year’s race for the Republican nomination. He says he “parachuted” into that campaign both too late and unprepared. He knows better now.
He passed this preliminary test with ease. His speech comparing the roaring economy of Texas to that of other states was impressive. I heard him deliver it to three separate groups. There were no uncomfortable moments or glitches. What’s significant is that he has a positive, upbeat message. Most Republicans don’t.
But it will take months of gaffe-free speeches and TV appearances to begin to overcome the legacy of 2012. His “oops” moment—when he forgot in a televised debate the third federal agency he would abolish—lives on. Before he arrived in Chicago, Mayor Emanuel said, “I hope when he comes he remembers all three of his reasons for coming.”
Wherever Perry went in New York, the same question was asked. Will he run and for what office? Perry is the longest-serving governor in Texas history, 13 years and counting. He’ll soon announce, possibly this week, if he intends to seek another term in 2014. My guess is he won’t.
But there are strong hints Perry will run again for president. He says candidates do better the second time. His speeches are geared to a national audience. So is his message. In Jeff Miller, he has a strategist he trusts. And he’s from a big state.
While running for president, “You find out so much about yourself,” Perry says. “Some of it is even true.” In 2012, a reporter discovered Perry is a distant relative of Sam Houston, the fifth Texas governor. Perry recalled this fondly, as if he’s ready to discover what a presidential bid in 2016 would bring.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.