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M.D. Harmon: Texas Gov Rick Perry revives competitive federalism

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry is filled with Texan pride.

The Politico website has noted that there is a Republican governor giving Democrats fits who isn’t named Paul LePage.

It’s Rick Perry of Texas, who joined the 2012 GOP presidential race late and left early, thanks to a mental lapse in a debate when he was asked which government departments he wanted to close down. The proper answer, of course, was, “The issue is which ones we should keep.”

He also gained a bit of attention for shooting a marauding coyote with his own pistol when the varmint attacked his dog while they were out jogging.

Now, he’s back on the hunt. Perry’s current high-spirited campaign to lure companies and investments from blue states to his own red one is producing quite a bit of negative reaction from his targets, which only indicates two things:

First, they only have themselves to blame if money managers and corporate leaders think the grass is verifiably more verdant across the Pecos than it is in their high-tax, high-regulation, low-profit states.

And second, their bleats of anguish and anger are signs that’s Perry’s message carries real weight on their home turf.

IN A JUNE 1 COLUMN headlined, “Rick Perry faces backlash over job raids,” the politics-focused website wrote: “Perry’s forceful recruitment campaigns, featuring radio and magazine ads as well as personal appearances, promise low-tax, pro-growth policies in Texas — and they also trash the business climate in places like California (‘I hear building a business in California is next to impossible’) and Illinois (‘an environment that, intentionally or not, is designed for you to fail’).

“Those attacks hit where it hurts and have touched off an angry political backlash against Perry outside the Texas borders, with Democrats mocking his attempts to steal jobs as clownish — and warning the Republican governor to keep his hands off. In a memorable putdown, Gov. Jerry Brown said Perry’s incursions into California were about as effective as breaking wind.”

Really? It seems that if Brown’s metaphor were accurate, then Perry’s effort could easily be ignored. But that’s not what his target states’ leaders are doing. Instead, they are treating his campaign as a real threat, which it is.

As Politico noted, “Other observers say Perry knows exactly what he’s doing: ‘At the end of the day, no matter how any of the (states) respond, people are left with two distinct messages: That guy down in Texas has got big brass balls and he’s creating a lot of jobs,’ Mark McKinnon, a political strategist with deep Texas ties, told Politico. ‘It’s brilliant marketing and very smart politics.’ McKinnon also noted, ‘Of course, it breaks all the rules of interstate diplomacy and protocol.’ ”

THE QUESTION THAT PERRY, and leaders in other states with pro-growth policies who may want to follow his example, have to consider is whether “interstate diplomacy” is more important than the economic well-being of the people who elected them.

It’s hard to see how any rule of politeness could outrank taking effective action that would help both one’s constituents and the businesses that would employ them in productive, useful work — instead of the expansion of the welfare state and the wasteful chimera of “growth via taxpayer-funded ‘stimulus’ spending.”

As we have seen in the past few years, that’s just a euphemism for “crony capitalism,” the spreading of government largesse on political supporters and favored groups at the expense of the larger society.

INDEED, THERE ARE THOSE who see what Perry is doing as falling squarely in the context of the Founders’ vision:

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, said in a column in the New York Post on June 3 that “Perry is exploiting the genius of our federalist system for all it’s worth. In his business-recruitment trips, accompanied by trash-talking ads and Texas-sized braggadocio, he’s subjecting other states to the fire of competition. In an ad in Crain’s Chicago Business, Perry offered businesses in the state “an escape route to economic freedom … a route to Texas.”

Lowry notes, “This is exactly how the Founders imagined the interplay among the states working. George Mason scholar Michael Greve refers to the system as ‘competitive’ federalism. ‘This federalism relies on exit and mobility — of capital, and of labor — as a means of disciplining government,’ he writes. ‘Competitive federalism is a terrific prescription for a big, diverse country with a highly mobile citizenry and a national government that responds poorly to democratic demands.’ ”

And, Lowry adds, “Perry may be boastful, but he has a lot to boast about. Texas had a 6.4 percent unemployment rate in April. When President Obama recently made Austin, Texas, his first stop on a trip touting job creation, Perry welcomed him with an ad noting, accurately, ‘Over the last 10 years, Texas created 33 percent of the net new jobs nationwide.’ ”

Perry’s foes scoff, Lowry notes, saying Texas is benefiting from an energy boom. “Well, states like California and New York also have oil and gas resources, but refuse to exploit them fully for political reasons. Regardless, Texas job growth ranges much more widely than the energy sector.”

And he adds, “Texas benefits from low tax rates (it is one of seven states with no personal income tax), a low cost of living, light regulation, checks on abusive lawsuits and its status as a right-to-work state. California has none of the above. Although its unemployment rate has been declining, it is still 9 percent, the fourth-highest in the nation.”

WE SAW A BIT OF Perry-like behavior in Maine, when Gov. LePage published a column in the Wall Street Journal trying to attract firearms-related industries to move to Maine from states where liberals were piling oppressive laws on the sale and use of the companies’ products.

But Maine is just one of a dozen states joining in that effort, and while a number of such companies have said they are considering leaving states like Colorado, New York and Connecticut, so far few have announced definite destinations.

Meanwhile, while things have gotten somewhat better under LePage, it’s still hard to say the state has taken enough significant steps to attract outside businesses to have drawn lasting national attention.

Recent Democratic statements in favor of raising the income tax and nominally “bipartisan” efforts to pile more sales taxes on goods sold here aren’t creating any favorable impacts elsewhere, that’s for sure.

GETTING BACK TO PERRY, economics writer Rick Moran, commenting on his effort on the PJ Tattler website on June 1, noted that “Perry visited Illinois in April and was roundly criticized by Democrats in the state. But the business climate in Illinois is so bad that the governors from the border(ing) states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri and Indiana have all made their own pitches to businesses in the state.”

Moran added, “Perry’s efforts may be drawing the most attention, but the bottom line is obvious: Facebook is opening two new data facilities in Midwest states and Illinois is not one of them. Given that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, is a staunch supporter of Barack Obama, one would think that opening a facility that would give Obama’s home state a boost in jobs would be in the cards.

“It wasn’t, and CEOs like Zuckerberg won’t be coming to Illinois anytime soon as long as they have the second-highest business tax rate in the nation, poor schools, and crumbling infrastructure. Nor will they be beating down the door of Jerry Brown in California, or any other state that creates a business climate not conducive to growth.”

And he concluded, “Instead of criticizing Perry, Democrats would do much better imitating his methods.”

EVEN A LIBERAL THINK TANK cited by Politico sees value in Perry’s effort: “It’s irresistible to a lot of governors, but Perry has been the leader,” said Mark Muro, a senior fellow and director of policy for the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

“This is not necessarily the best way for state executives to spend time, but it’s hard to resist. It’s politically attractive, the chief executive is seen as, quote, ‘trying to do something.’ Any successful relocation offers the tried-and-true moment of the ribbon cutting, so it’s pretty intoxicating stuff.”

Let’s conclude with a comment from a Texas Democrat, who certainly has no motivation to give Perry any credit (the chairman of the state Democratic Party called his effort “foolish”). Yet, some state Democrats give grudging support to his campaign.

As quoted by Politico, Democratic U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego says that he and the governor have “historically not been particularly close,” and suggested Perry could take a lighter touch to his jobs effort — but the gist of his message speaks to Texans on both sides of the aisle.

“I think Texans are all very, regardless of their political stripes, are all very proud to be Texans, they’re Texans first, and I think that makes us fairly unique,” Gallego said. “So it’s always good to see statewide elected officials going out and marketing Texas. The question is how we do it. Do you do it by raising hackles or do you do it in another manner? And, you know, Gov. Perry’s personality is such that he certainly tends to like the press and his ability to generate it, so I think that is very Rick Perry.”

PERRY’S CURRENT TERM as governor is up next year, and he’s made no announcements about another presidential run in 2016, but a record of success in his home state could get him on a ticket with a northern or western candidate.

Closer to home, however, Mainers have to look at Perry’s effort and realize that, even if they dislike the salesman, he’s selling a product — a state with low business and personal tax rate, reasonable regulations, right-to-work laws and a growth-oriented political climate — that essentially sells itself.

So, what has to happen here to make Maine a self-selling state — considering that the eyes of Texas are upon us?

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@yahoo.com

About M.D. Harmon

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@yahoo.com

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