Sunday, September 04, 2011

"If he wins the presidency, Perry wants us to believe he'll strip that office of some of its power. Don't believe it."

Perry's words about government power contradict his actions


DeWayne Wickham
Statesman Journal
Copyright 2011

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the day he entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination that he'd "work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can," did he mean he wants the presidency to be as powerless as the job he now holds?

When Perry lobbed this potshot at President Obama — "You can't win the future by selling America off to foreign creditors"was he thinking of his own failed attempt to use foreign investments and tolls to finance a controversial $175 billion road project in the Lone Star State?

When he said at the end of this speech that "the people are not subjects of government," government "is subject to the people," was Perry channeling the rage of the Texas farmers who successfully fought off his effort to seize their land to build that 4,000-mile Trans-Texas Corridor?

The newest addition to the long list of Republican presidential wannabes, Perry is the longest-serving chief executive of Texas, a state in which the lieutenant governor and House speaker, arguably, have more control over the economy than does the governor. This unusual distribution of power is the product of a state constitution written in the wake of the Reconstruction period when governors, often chosen by the federal government, ran Texas and other former Confederate states with a heavy hand.

If he wins the presidency, Perry wants us to believe he'll strip that office of some of its power. Don't believe it. Perry wants us to think that if he ends up in the Oval Office, he'll usher in an era of smaller government. That's probably not going to happen.

What's more likely is that he'll roll back those federal government roles he objects to and expand authority in areas that will advance his right-wing agenda.

How might he do this?

In his 2010 book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, Perry abandons the "strict constructionist" view of the Constitution many Republicans cling to by arguing for an amendment that strips federal judges of their lifetime appointments. He also wants to tip the balance of power in favor of Congress by tweaking the Constitution to give federal lawmakers the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions.

If you think this makes Perry a champion of those who want to bring the reins of power closer to this nation's people, consider this: The tough-talking Texas governor wants to repeal the constitutional amendment that made it possible for voters of every state to elect U.S. senators. Until the 17th amendment was ratified in 1913, state legislatures elected senators.

This from the man who wanted to use his state's power of eminent domain to seize private farm land to build the Trans-Texas Corridor. Also, in an act that many right-wing advocates of individual rights saw as political blasphemy, Perry tried in 2007 to mandate that all sixth-graders in the state get vaccinated against HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted disease.

While he seeks to portray himself as a Tea Party devotee, Perry is more of a have-it-my-way conservative whose record presents nothing so compelling as his mixed messages on the role of government in people's lives — and nothing more worrisome than the prospect of how consequential his presidency would be to the life of this nation.

DeWayne Wickham is a columnist for USA Today. Send email to

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