By DeWayne Wickham
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 pot shot 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 the 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 that was 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 federal authority in areas that will advance his personal right-wing rights 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 Republican cling to by arguing for an amendment that strips federal judges of their lifetime appointments. He also wants to tip the constitutional 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 their U.S. senators. Until the 17th amendment was ratified in 1913, senators were elected by state legislatures.
And remember, it was Perry who wanted to use his state’s power of eminent domain to take land from Texas farmers to build the Trans-Texas Corridor. Also, in an act that many right-wing advocates of individual rights saw as political blasphemy, Perry issued an executive order in 2007 mandating that all sixth-graders in the state to get vaccinated against HPV (human papillomavirus), which is 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 who’s committed to nothing so compelling as his own mixed messages on the role of government in people’s lives – and nothing more worrisome than the degree to which a Perry presidency would be consequential to the life of this nation.