For Texas, it’s the end of an error. Gov. Rick Perry, who became governor before the inventions of the iPod, hybrid cars, and YouTube, will forgo re-election while not closing the door for a second run for president. Perry might be moving on, but he’s leaving behind a legacy as a radical free-marketeer who never governed anything he didn’t want to privatize.
Most don’t give credit Perry for being a deep thinker. We’re talking about a kid who grew up on a farm and got a C in animal breeding at Texas A&M. When Perry became governor, locals assumed that he would not be able to maintain the standard of intellectual rigor set by his predecessor, George W. Bush, and Perry’s 2012 campaign didn’t exactly make Harvard regret not recruiting him out of Paint Creek High School for their debate team.
That’s why recognizing Perry as a free-market thought leader sounds funny. What’s next? Anthony Weiner starting a non-rofit to raise public awareness about sexting? Former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig appearing in public service announcements to talk about proper bathroom etiquette? Mark Sanford (R-Appalachian Trail) seems more qualified to give marital advice than Perry does to promote an intellectual construct.
After stepping in “oops” when he couldn’t count to three, Perry’s never going to be considered Mensa material, but as long as he’s been in the governor’s mansion, Perry has been trying to get state government out of the government business. Under Perry, anything corporations could do better than state government got privatized. Anything government could do better than private business, well, that got privatized too.
The only problem is that Perry’s privatization has usually blown up in his face. In 2003, Perry replaced 2,900 state workers with private call centers that were going to make it easier for Texans to apply for food stamps, Medicaid and children’s health insurance. Not only did it make it harder for poor Texans to get help, but it also cost taxpayers $243 million. Perry calls that a win-win.
Perry also “deregulated” tuition at state colleges and universities. This free-market reform increased tuition 55 percent in a decade. Not content to make college unaffordable, Perry has tried — so far without success — “to apply the cost-benefit logic of business to public higher education.” This is a great idea if you think a university should run its English Department like Enron. Apparently Perry does.
There’s more: In a bit of the snake eating its own tail, Perry has proposed privatizing health care at private prisons. His plans to put privately managed tolls on public roads build by taxes incited a grassroots rebellion. And his move to privatize data center consolidation at the Texas Department of Information Resources was suspended two years into a seven-year, $863-million contract with IBM.
Perry’s think tank is likely to be funded by the generous souls who funded his campaigns. Half of his top donors received $37 million in state contracts, and 921 of his appointees contributed $17.2 million to his campaigns. Michele Bachmann called this “crony capitalism,” but to Perry it’s investor confidence.
To be sure, Perry will probably downplay his privatization efforts and crony capitalism to emphasize the low taxes, low regulations and pro-business tort reforms that have made Texas a leader in job creation. But Texas was a low tax, low regulation state long before Perry came along, and Texas led the nation in job creation under Gov. Ann Richards. What makes Perry different is his religious fervor to privatize state government, a dogma he has pursued in the absence of evidence it was working.
In his states’ rights manifesto Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington, Perry wrote, “States should be laboratories of democracy.” Perry probably hopes to rehabilitate his reputation by touting his record in Texas. But when you look at the results, Texas has been a meth lab of failure and cronyism for a dozen years. That’s a long time to be wrong.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JasStanford.