SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Breitbart News caught up with former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) as he took a swing through Texas in his second week back on the campaign trail since launching his presidential campaign in Addison, Texas on June 4th.
In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News, Perry shared his perspective on how this campaign differs from his 2012 attempt, why he believes that his record stacks up favorably against any of his competitors, what he believes will be a major challenge for former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), his thoughts on the abuses at the VA, and a special memory he shared about time he spent with Breitbart News founder, the late Andrew Breitbart.
We met Perry at a Starbucks in San Antonio, the latest stop in a busy campaign schedule that had him in at least six cities spread across Texas in half as many days. Perry, who just wrapped up fourteen years as Texas’ Governor this past January, is a well-recognized figure in his home state and was warmly greeted by many of the Starbucks patrons, including a little girl who shyly asked Perry to sign her autograph book.
The Governor drew a little heart in the girl’s book and wrote “Study Hard!” before signing his name. His act was as sweet as the skinny mocha frappuccino (with whip cream!) that Perry had ordered. Perry cracked a joke about the sugary drink — “Isn’t that a beautiful thing? That’s calories, is what that is” — and pointed out that he likes to start the day with regular dark roast coffee.
Remembering Andrew Breitbart
As we sat down to start the interview, Perry noticed the sticker on my laptop: a image of Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Breitbart News who passed away in 2012, formed out of his own words.
Perry smiled in recognition and pulled out his cell phone to show me the background image. It was a target sheet from a shooting range, from a day he had gone shooting with Andrew.
“He had never shot a pistol before,” said Perry, “and as a matter of fact, he did pretty well, you can see,” pointing to the tight grouping. Perry’s autograph on the target sheet reads, “To Andrew — Shoot Straight! Vote Conservative… Rick Perry.” Andrew had taken the original back with him to the Breitbart offices in Los Angeles, and Perry had saved this photo.
“He was a good man,” added Perry, smiling at the memory.
Moving past the challenges of 2011
The conversation turned to the campaign, just launched two weeks ago to the day as we talked that Thursday. Perry’s 2012 campaign was a roller coaster ride, shooting to the top of the polls when he first entered the race, but then plummeting back down after a series of debate missteps.
To his credit, Perry has been very forthcoming in acknowledging what went wrong in 2012, saying very frankly that he had not had adequate time to prepare on the broader list of issues and his recovery from back surgery a few months before entering the race had been longer and tougher than anticipated.
Not only is he completely healthy, Perry wants people to know, he has undertaken serious study over the past few years, and also no longer has to divide his attention between the campaign and being the Governor of Texas.
“It’s a very different time,” said Perry, explaining that the “biggest difference” was that he was “healthy and prepared” this time. “Both of those were challenges in 2011.”
“You have to take the time to go get the briefings, to go acquire the knowledge,” he explained. “That’s what I didn’t do in 2011 but what I have done for the last three and a half years,” describing trips he had taken to meet with policy experts at the Hoover Institute, Manhattan Institute, Heritage Foundation, Hay Initiative, and other conservative think tanks. “The preparation side of it is very important.”
I was actually at both of Perry’s presidential launches, in August 2011 in Charleston, South Carolina, and in Addison, Texas on June 4th. Both featured Perry confidently touting his record in Texas as his best resume line to qualify him for the White House, but there are a number of key differences this time around.
In 2012, Perry’s message was heavily focused on the Texas economic miracle, and rightfully so. During Perry’s tenure as Governor, the Lone Star State added more jobs than all the other states put together, one-third of all jobs created in the U.S. since 2000. These numbers are even more impressive considering that this happened during the Great Recession and its aftermath.
Jeb Bush “has to be careful” about criticizing Texas
This campaign has seen Perry move beyond just touting Texas’ impressive numbers, readily contrasting his record with any of his competitors, with former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) in particular.
Perry noted that Bush was bragging that he had created more jobs in Florida during his time as Governor than were created in Texas. While Perry said that he respected Bush’s record — “job creation is what a governor’s supposed to be about” — but added that it was important for Americans to remember that it was “blue skies and smooth sailing” for Bush, who benefited from the surging prices during housing bubble, which burst after he was out of office.
“What happened in those states when the Great Recession occurred, the worst recession America’s had since the Great Depression?” asked Perry. “In fact, there’s only one state [that didn’t suffer]…we outperformed, nobody else is even close!”
“Jeb has to be careful about his criticism of bypassing Texas,” added Perry, “because the bulk of that, his brother was the Governor, and his brother’s probably not going to take very kindly to him saying ‘we kicked Texas’ butt,’ but, you know, I’ll let him work that out with his brother.”
Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post agreed with Perry’s assessment:
A significant amount of Florida’s economic and job growth in the Bush era was driven by a massive run-up in housing prices — which peaked in Bush’s last year in office, then plunged the state into a worse recession than the nation as a whole.
When you account for the role of housing, Bush’s economic record looks a lot more mixed. Almost all of the gains he talks up today, including three-fifths of the job creation, were wiped out in the four years after he left office, once the bubble burst.
The housing bubble, of course, was not the fault of Bush or any one governor, but if Bush cannot be blamed for losses caused by the bubble, it is equally problematic to grant him credit for its gains, as blogger Ace of Spades pointed out.
Matthew Yglesias at Vox — certainly no staunch conservative or Perry apologist — wrote an article recently with a compelling summary of Perry’s economic record, calling it “far and away the best and most coherent story of any candidate in the field about why his record in office should make you think he could deliver the kind of prosperity the voters crave.”
Yglesias’ article included the chart shown below, comparing in-state job growth with the national average rate during the tenure of several governors. “You can see that Perry’s time in office largely corresponded with a not-so-hot spell of job creation for the United States of America,” writes Yglesias, “but that he nonetheless has the strongest record of in-state job creation of anyone in the sample.”
With his new campaign, Perry is still happily bragging about all the new jobs in Texas — “we’re the most successful state in the nation” — but he is also making the effort to articulate the policies enacted during his tenure that encouraged economic development, as well as connecting that economic growth to improvements in the lives of ordinary Texans.
“We went in and really did some things that created a great positive effect on our economy,” said Perry. “Passed the most sweeping tort reform in the world, we reduced spending by ten billion dollars rather than raising taxes…It was a very concerted effort to send a message that you can risk your capital and have a chance to have a return on your investment.”
The results of this tort reform, according to Perry, were that over 35,000 more physicians were licensed to practice in Texas than had been a decade earlier. “That’s a huge number, and the access to health care exploded. I’m a big believer that the way you judge if you’re successful on the health care front is not how many people you force to buy insurance, but how many people have access to better health care, and we’ve done that in Texas.”
Perry also rattled off several reforms to the public education system, to “make our schools more accountable,” including incentive pay for good teachers, expanding charter schools, implementing testing that made it easier to intervene earlier if they were struggling.
These efforts paid off, taking Texas from “in the middle of the pack,” ranked 27th in the U.S. in 2003 for high school graduation rates, to second in 2013. “That is a powerful, powerful story.”
Texas didn’t just improve overall graduation rates, but was ranked number one for both African-American and Hispanic graduation rates, statistics of which Perry is very proud. “You’ve got to remember, Texas is a very diverse state. We’re the largest majority-minority state that’s seen progress in their public schools…there’s not a more powerful message to a family that we care about you, and we’re taking care of your kids, than to graduate them from high school” and make sure they have a future,” said Perry.
Failure to care for veterans “pisses me off,” says Perry
Texas’ job creation is also sharing the spotlight in Perry’s campaign with national security and foreign policy issues, and caring for America’s veterans, an issue near and dear to Perry’s heart. Other than extreme longshot Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Perry is the only Republican candidate with military experience, having flown C-130 tactical aircraft as an Air Force Captain during the 1970s in Europe and the Middle East.
“This veterans’ issue is one that we’ve been dealing with for five or six years, so it’s not new to us, but it became a national issue a year and a half ago,” he said. Taking care of veterans’ needs “is a really important public policy issue that needs to be addressed,” said Perry, who added that he had been working with these issues for a long time, “both in a personal way and in a professional way.”
The “personal way” Perry mentioned included helping former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who had appeared at his campaign launch along with his twin brother and fellow SEAL, Morgan. Luttrell, the author of the book Lone Survivor about his experiences surviving an ambush in Afghanistan, was befriended by Perry and his wife Anita after he returned to Texas after his combat service.
Suffering from PTSD and physical injuries sustained in combat, plus challenges readjusting to civilian life, Luttrell showed up unannounced on the doorstep of the Governor’s Mansion one day in 2007. He had met Perry before and the Governor had told him to let him know if they could ever help him. The Perrys invited Luttrell to move into the Governor’s Mansion while they worked to help him find doctors to treat his injuries, including a spinal surgeon, as well as providing him with a safe, home-like environment where his heart and mind could recover.
Perry described his frustrations dealing with “this very archaic and broken system” to get Luttrell the medical care and support he needed. “I had to literally intervene to the height of the Secretary of the Navy,” he said.
“There’s ten thousand kids like Marcus who didn’t have a Governor, and that pisses me off,” said Perry, noting that it should not require the Governor of Texas to make that kind of phone call in order for a veteran to get help.
“As the Governor, we were putting teams that were going into the VA here in Texas, to help alleviate the red tape. All these veterans will tell you that the VA was just slow, and bureaucratically archaic, it was a corrosive process for them. They can’t get the benefits they need, or have to wait months to get their benefits.”
“That is just not acceptable.”
Perry noted that the Obama administration had the opportunity to address these problems, but no real progress could be seen. “I’m still very unhappy with how this has been addressed, we’re a year plus [after] they changed Secretaries [of the VA], they got all this money from the federal government, and I’m not sure anything has changed.”
“No one gives you a manual” to learn executive experience
Perry has called this campaign the “show me, don’t tell me election,” and has sought to emphasize that his record shows that he is the best prepared among the ever-growing field of candidates for the job of President.
“Executive experience is really important,” said Perry. “You can’t get executive experience but by one avenue, from my perspective…you can read all the books you want on how to deal with catastrophic events, but until you go through it and you live through it and you manage it, it’s just words on paper.”
“No one gives you a manual on how to deal with the space shuttle disintegrating over your state,” he continued. “No one gives you a manual on how to deal with hurricanes — Katrina, Rita, Ike — and the list goes on. Nobody can tell you how to deal with a crisis on your border, where you have literally tens of thousands of people show up, trying to penetrate through your border and the federal government’s not assisting you. Or how to deal with Ebola.”
“All of those things are executive experience that is invaluable.” However, Perry noted, “governors generally don’t deal in the arena of monetary policy, domestic policy, or foreign affairs,” or at least most governors don’t. The situation is a bit different when you’re Governor of Texas, “the twelfth largest economy in the world,” he explained, mentioning the 1200 mile border with Mexico, and trips he had been able to take, not just to visit important trading partners in Europe and Asia, but also combat zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Read Part I of Breitbart News’ exclusive interview with Gov. Perry, in which he discusses how his lack of trust in President Obama made him unable to support the “Obamatrade” bills, despite his belief in free trade.
Stay tuned for Part III, in which Perry talks about why Texas is the model for criminal justice reform, the vital role his wife Anita will play in the campaign, why would veto the funding for the Public Integrity Unit under troubled Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg all over again, and the message he hopes voters hear as he makes a second attempt to earn their support to elect him President.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.