Rep. Chisum: "If [Governor Perry] got kidnapped or something... There may be some debate about how much we would pay."
Peggy Fikac, Austin Bureau
San Antono Express-News
AUSTIN — Foreign trips by Gov. Rick Perry and his wife have cost Texas more than a quarter of a million dollars in security provided through his protective detail, according to figures obtained by the San Antonio Express-News.
Perry spokesman Robert Black touted travel Tuesday as particularly important in advancing the GOP governor's economic development agenda.
That was a key aim of many of the 10 trips, although the list also includes a Grand Cayman vacation last year and a 2004 trip to the Bahamas with campaign donors and that the governor's office said was to discuss education.
Perry's direct expenses on state trips generally have been covered by a privately financed economic development program overseen by his office or business contributions or his campaign.
The security tab, however, is paid by the state. The cost of the Governor Protective Detail falls under the Texas Department of Public Safety's highway patrol budget, financed primarily by the state gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees.
"It's not a small amount of money," said Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, of the security cost of $259,428.07 for nine trips starting in 2004. (Security for the 10th trip, to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006, was provided by the federal government, according to Perry's office).
But Chisum said security is an appropriate cost for government to bear.
"Obviously we wouldn't want our governor going without security. ... If he got kidnapped or something, we'd spend 10 times as much trying to get him out." Chisum said.
Then again, Chisum quipped about the governor who sometimes draws lawmakers' ire for his proposals and his vetoes, "There may be some debate about how much we would pay."
The costliest security tab — at $73,413.85 — was for Perry's trip to the Middle East in March, in the midst of the regular legislative session.
Perry, an Aggie, made the trip to help dedicate a Texas A&M University campus in Qatar and to have meetings with the aim of luring economic development projects to Texas.
"As the leader of the 10th largest economy in the world, the governor has made job creation and economic development a cornerstone of his administration, and that means ... bringing jobs to this state, whether from inside our own country or from around the world," Black said.
The other trips by Perry and/or his wife, Anita, included the Bahamas; Italy; two to Mexico; Japan; Iraq and Afghanistan; Grand Cayman; Qatar and the United Arab Emirates; Turkey; and Israel and Jordan. Anita Perry represented the governor during the 2005 trade mission to Japan.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said, "I think perhaps he should consider private security as an option. ... Allowing the campaign to pay for private security during personal time is a reasonable thing. If you're traveling as an official of the state on an official trip, then I completely understand the DPS should go with you."
DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said the security detail's duty is clear: "Whenever the governor travels, we go with him. That's the way it's been with past governors."
Past governors' travels also have drawn attention, although Perry seems to be the leader in foreign trips.
When then-Gov. George W. Bush campaigned for president the first time, in the 2000 election, Texas saw an increased security cost. In 1998, before Bush announced plans to run for the White House, the DPS spent $285,873 on his security detail. In 1999, when he began his campaign and traveled the country, the total jumped to $2.65 million. Bush also made a much-noted trip to Israel before launching his presidential campaign.
Bush's predecessor, the late Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, traveled to Mexico, said former aide Chuck McDonald, but it was her U.S. travel that drew barbs.
"We got criticized just for going to California, for crying out loud," McDonald said. "We were like, 'We're trying to bring the movie industry to Texas.' Everyone is like, 'Sure you are.'"
Political scientist Bruce Buchanan of the University of Texas said foreign travel potentially could benefit the state.
"It kind of depends on what's going on on the trips. Obviously, there's some element of building Perry's profile ... on the other hand, that doesn't necessarily hurt the state," Buchanan said. "It may in the long run help the state, should he in the long run have a future profile."
"Ten (trips) does sound like a goodly number," Buchanan added. "That's quite a lot. I'm not sure I want to jump on him for that. A certain amount would be easily forgivable. This seems like quite a lot."
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