Friday, May 23, 2008

"Perry's modus operandi: Waylay legislators after the heavy lifting of writing legislation has been done and then surprise them with a veto."

The governor takes off on a charm offensive

Schmoozing with the legislators shouldn't be big news, but for Rick Perry it is.


Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Copyright 2008

Gov. Rick Perry is on a charm offensive. The Associated Press reported that the governor has been meeting with state legislators in informal get-togethers, chit-chatting about family and common interests, asking about their kids. And there's talk about state issues, too, whenever it seems appropriate, observers and participants in the meetings say.

Politicians schmoozing with each other ordinarily isn't news. But it says a lot about Perry's past history of relationships with members of the legislature that the wire service felt moved to write a news item about the governor's recent round of socializing. In fact, if the governor is trying to get the legislators to warm up to him, he has a lot of ground to make up. Perry's modus operandi has been to waylay legislators after the heavy lifting of writing legislation has been done and then surprise them with a veto.

His veto of community college funding after the 2007 session aroused community college officials and students and their supporters all over the state. Legislators who had worked on the funding legislation were angry that he had given no indication that he would use his veto pen.

Perry said his staff had passed the word, but that served to underscore the arms-length communication style has employed with legislators. Even on initiatives that had merit, such as his executive order mandating vaccination of school-age girls with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine against cervical cancer, Perry surprised legislators, giving them little reason to defend him when conservatives in his own Republican Party pushed back.

Border sheriffs, after backing Perry for reelection in a campaign in which border security was made a high priority, were surprised when only a few million out of a $100 million border security funding went their way. The pattern was set after Perry's first legislature as governor in 2001 when he ambushed legislators by vetoing more than 80 bills with little warning. There wasn't much schmoozing then.

But Perry would have been a better governor if he had worked as hard then at establishing working relationships with legislators and political leaders as he seems to be now. The political writer for the AP, Kelly Shannon, wrote that Perry has traveled across the state to meet with legislators, often in their hometowns.

The trips are done in conjunction with promoting his book on Boy Scouts, "On My Honor," or to make an appearance at a local event, such as the groundbreaking in Fredericksburg for an expansion for the National Museum of the Pacific War.

In Fredericksburg, he met over lunch with Rep. Harvey Hildebran, a Kerrville Republican, and Doug Miller, a New Braunfels Republican running in November for a House seat. In Laredo, Perry attended a merienda hosted by State Sen. Judith Zaffrini and ate burgers with legislators in San Antonio. He's managed to work in discussions about higher education funding, about border security, the state budget, and roads and water. These conversations are all to the good ahead of what some consider a coming tough session. But there is also political context here.

Perry has already announced he's running for a third term. It is possible that Perry would find himself in a high-powered Republican primary race in 2010 against U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, or Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, or both.

That means that Perry, who was elected with about 39 percent of the vote in a six-candidate race in 2006, would find it helpful to have a legislative success that he could claim as his own. That kind of success means schmoozing with other politicians, establishing relations and setting up lines of communication. In other words, the kind of things that a governor who wants to be effective should have been doing.

© 2008 Corpus Christie Caller-Times

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