AUSTIN, 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.
This is the third part of our exclusive interview with Perry (don’t miss Part I and Part II), in which he shares his thoughts about Texas’ successful criminal justice reforms, his philosophy on the Tenth Amendment and how he would encourage more innovation and freedom for the states, and the special role his wife Anita will play in his campaign.
How Texas became the national model for criminal justice reform
Texas’ stellar record of job creation is well-known, but Texas has also made impressive strides in the area of criminal justice reform. During his fifteen years as Texas’ longest-serving Governor, Perry supported and signed into law multiple substantive reforms, including creating specialty courts like drug courts and veterans courts that were better able to address the unique needs of certain types of offenders, expanding alternatives to incarceration like drug treatment programs and community supervision for low risk and first time nonviolent offenders, and directing more resources towards probation and parole monitoring.
As Breitbart Texas reported, Texas’ criminal justice reforms experienced successes beyond what even their most optimistic supporters had hoped. Texas was able to not only avoid building any new prisons despite the state’s exploding population, it even closed three of them. Texas saved over $2 billion, all the more incredible considering that this figure includes the funds spent on the new and expanded treatment programs and incarceration alternatives.
Most importantly, the drop in Texas’ incarceration rate was done without any corresponding detriment to public safety. Texas’ crime rate is currently the lowest it has been since 1968, and violent crime, property crime, and recidivism rates have all gone down across the board.
The Texas model of criminal justice reform has won accolades from conservatives and liberals across the country, as dozens of state legislatures and even the federal government have sought to replicate the Lone Star State’s success. Texas itself continued enacting substantive reforms throughout Perry’s time as Governor, and even continued through this just-completed legislative session, with several new reform bills being passed, including decriminalizing truancy, expanding re-entry programs, and new alternatives for first time nonviolent offenders facing minor drug possession charges.
Breitbart News asked Perry about his support for these reforms, and how the work had started. Perry described a conversation that he had had with John Creuzot, who at that time was a Texas District Court Judge in Dallas.
“You know, we went on a really big [prison] building spree back in the early 1990s, under [former Democrat Texas Governor] Ann Richards’ administration,” said Perry, “coupled with really harsh sentencing.” This combination of harsh sentencing, a growing population, and new prison construction led to Texas having one of the highest incarceration rates in the country.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2000 to 2010 Texas’ population grew to over 25.1 million people, an increase of 4.3 million, the highest growth in the country during that period, and the estimated population in 2014 was almost 27 million. Despite this rapid growth, the state’s prison population stayed virtually stagnant during Perry’s tenure as Governor, and has even started to decrease as reforms have continued to be implemented.
“Nobody gets confused about Texas — we are a tough on crime state — but what we’ve become is a very smart on crime state,” said Perry.
Perry told Breitbart News how he had been inspired from those initial conversations with Judge Creuzot, and then had worked with former State Rep. Jerry Madden (R-Plano) and State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) to encourage their efforts to put together a package of legislation.
“[Judge Creuzot] was talking to me about this concept of drug courts, and it made sense,” said Perry. Moreover, he added, “this was a really bipartisan thing,” supported by Democrats like Creuzot and Whitmire, and Republicans like Madden, who he called the “real champion” of the initial reforms.
“I don’t care whether it’s a Democratic or a Republican idea, I care if it’s a good idea.”
“I don’t care whose idea it is, I don’t care whether it’s a Democratic idea or a Republican idea,” he continued. “I care if it’s a good idea, and [the creation of drug courts] was a good idea, it made sense to me, and the results are very powerful.”
Encouraged by the success of the drug courts, Texas added a number of other specialty courts, including prostitution courts and veterans’ courts, that have a better understanding of both the unique challenges faced by veterans as well as the benefits and programs available to them.
“We’ve got a lot of different types of specialty courts now, that give the judges the flexibility to be able to rehabilitate, but [also] to punish. I mean, we’re not saying, it’s fine to go out and commit these crimes just because they’re nonviolent…there’s a punishment, but we’re not going to destroy your life.”
“This country’s always been about second chances.”
“This country’s always been about second chances, giving people a second chance,” said the Governor who is hoping that voters will give him a second chance during this campaign.
“And it needs to always be that way,” Perry continued, comparing the early colonists who came to America to flee religious persecution, to immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island at the turn of the Twentieth Century, to Texans “who made an error [and were] deserving a second chance.”
Perry himself has continued to support criminal justice reform efforts across the country, joining the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s (TPPF) Right on Crime campaign, along with Madden, who serves as a senior fellow for the organization. “Very few elected officials have made the kind of impact on criminal justice issues that Rick Perry has,” said Brooke Rollins, TPPF’s President and CEO, crediting him with “the sweeping reforms that, in addition to lowering crime rates and saving taxpayers money, made ‘the Texas model’ on criminal justice—as well as the Right on Crime campaign—possible.”
Justifiably proud of the results of Texas’ reforms, Perry told Breitbart News that their benefits extend far beyond just the raw numbers, pointing to the impact on human lives:
Three prisons shut down in the past four years. Two billion dollars worth of savings to the taxpayers of this state. But what I will suggest is even more important: the lives that have been saved.
People who didn’t go to prison for a long period of time and learn how to become a hardened criminal and then they come out and that’s all they know. They have been able to get a second chance and are becoming, or already are, productive members of society. And that’s smart.
“That’s the beauty of the Tenth Amendment.”
Mentioning how many other states were enacting their own versions of Texas’ reforms, Perry cited this as an example of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution at work, and part of the inspiration for his campaign for President:
Other states are looking at [Texas], and copying it. That’s the beauty of the Tenth Amendment. That’s what [U.S. Supreme Court Justice] Louis Brandeis was talking about when he said the states are the laboratories of democracy.
States are supposed to experiment. From time to time, they will foul up. And they will try something that doesn’t work. But he said, at least they haven’t destroyed the Republic. And that’s a powerful story…
One of the reasons that I’m running for President is to be an advocate for the states, to devolve this power back out of Washington, D.C. to the states.
Perry’s support for experimentation by the states includes a wide latitude even for ideas that he may not personally like, such as Colorado’s recent legalization of marijuana. Perry has a well-established record of opposing both marijuana legalization and incarceration-based penalties for minor use and possession, instead favoring decriminalization, which, in Perry’s words, “keeps people from going to prison and destroying their lives.”
When I think about Louis Brandeis’ statement about states experimenting, I can’t help but think about Colorado…they are experimenting with marijuana. I don’t think that’s a good idea, and I think they will find later that they’re going to have some challenges, problems…we’ll see.
But I will defend their right to experiment on different ideas and policies and concepts, because that competition is how this country’s going to continue to be stronger.
His enthusiasm for the Tenth Amendment extends beyond criminal justice reform. Perry, like many other Republican governors, has long been an advocate for transforming federal programs like Medicaid into block grants to the states, under which the federal government would give the funds directly to the states in a lump sum for them to manage and distribute as best fits the needs of their people.
“I would substantially give flexibility back to the states…substantially reduce Washington’s effect on the states,” said Perry, not just for Medicaid, but many other programs as well, describing an example of how funding for federal transportation projects often comes with requirements that are a poor fit for what the local community wants or needs.
Perry would also want states to have flexibility regarding health care. Like virtually all Republican candidates since Obamacare was enacted, Perry wants to repeal the health care law, and promised that a detailed policy proposal with his alternatives would be forthcoming very soon. Avik Roy, a nationally-recognized health care policy expert whose areas of expertise include how Obamacare and Medicaid hurt the poor, and whom Perry hired as his campaign’s Senior Policy Advisor, will undoubtedly play a major role in putting together what Perry referred to as a “pretty expansive restructuring” of the health care system.
“We’re big believers that the states would come up with a lot of innovative ideas to deliver health care, and give people choices,” said Perry, who added, “I really believe the only reason that the states are a little bit hesitant to be as strong as maybe I am on this, is that they’ve been blackmailed with their own money…oh, but when you take it, there’s all these strings attached.”
“First Lady of Texas for 14 years, my wife for 32 years, and my girlfriend for 49 years.”
The conversation turned to Perry’s wife, Anita, who had given a heartfelt introductory speech for her husband at his campaign launch two weeks prior. When the Perry campaign sent out a press release announcing the campaign leadership, included on that list was Minnie Salinas, the “Chief of Staff to Mrs. Perry.”
This inclusion of the candidate’s spouse as an integral part of the core campaign team is rare, if not virtually unheard of, for presidential or even statewide campaigns. Breitbart News asked Perry about structuring his campaign with his wife in such an essential role, and he replied, “It’s not ‘structured’ that way, she is.”
“She probably talks to [Perry campaign manager] Jeff Miller as much or more than I do,” continued Perry. “I mean, she knows what’s going on…she’s really engaged in the campaign, she’s smart, she has her areas of expertise, particular on health care, so she’s very involved.”
Mrs. Perry worked in the nursing profession for nearly two decades, and the nursing school at Texas Tech University, as well as nursing endowments at West Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at San Antonio, are named in her honor.
Breitbart News confirmed Mrs. Perry’s involvement with the campaign in a later phone conversation with Miller, who described her as an important and positive contributor to the campaign team.
Mrs. Perry also already has experience being a First Lady, he was happy to note. Perry grinned as he mentioned how she had been First Lady of Texas “for fourteen years, and has been my wife for thirty-two, and my girlfriend for forty-nine.”
Difference between today and 2012 is “day and night”
The support of his wife is not Perry’s only reason to smile about this campaign. Relaxed and confident, he told Breitbart News that he was enjoying being out on the campaign trail, and was pleased with the positive reception he was receiving.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Perry. “Nobody went to Iowa more than we did over the last eighteen months. I mean, we go to New Hampshire and South Carolina a lot. We’ve got really good organizations put in place there.”
Since the campaign officially launched, Perry described the reception as “bigger” and “more energetic,” but the major difference was between how this campaign had started as compared to 2011.
“Oh, well, the difference between now and then is, you know, day and night,” he said. “We rolled into [Charleston, South Carolina, where he announced his 2012 campaign] on the day of the [Iowa] Straw poll, and people had picked who they were going to support a year before, I mean, literally, a year before. Or they had a group who they were looking at, and we weren’t even in the conversation.”
“I’ll be on the debate stage.”
Perry was absolutely confident that he will make the cutoff for the Republican primary debates, which the current rules set at the top ten in the average of recent polls for the first one hosted by Fox News.
“I’ll be on the debate stage. I’m a lot more interested in what we’re going to say on the debate stage than whether I’m going to be there. I’ll be there,” he vowed.
To get to that debate stage, and then hopefully to the stage in Cleveland, Ohio to accept the Republican nomination for President, Perry believes the key will be making sure voters hear about his record, and that many will be pleasantly surprised by what they learn.
“I want them to know about our record,” said Perry, “and I want them to know that for the last decade, the population of Texas grew 5.6 million, faster than any other state in the nation. We created more jobs than any other state in the nation by a tremendous amount, but we also cleaned up the air.”
“Your conventional wisdom would tell you that when you add 5.6 million people to the population of this state — that’s a lot of pickup trucks,” he quipped, before turning serious again. “We have the largest refining capacity in the country, on the Gulf Coast, which by the way, also puts out a lot of emissions. It’s also at a latitude that is conducive for the production of ozone. All three of those things would tell you, conventional wisdom would tell you, the media would tell you, that that’s making for an environment that is worse.”
However, that’s not what ended up happening in Texas. According to Perry, “Nitrogen oxide levels went down 62.5 percent since 2001. Ozone levels went down 23 percent. And regardless of where you are on the whole climate change issue, carbon dioxide levels in Texas went down 9 percent.”
“That’s the twelfth largest economy in the world,” emphasized Perry, and “this is where I think we need a President who actually tries to sit down and bring people together… If the goal is, we’re going to try to have an economy where people can have a job and take care of themselves, and an environment that’s clean, I mean if you’re against either one of those, hold your hand up, OK? So if we agree on that, how did that happen?”
The solution in Texas, said Perry, was relatively simple. “We gave incentives to these companies, these big fleet operators, to change over their old dirty-burning diesels to cleaner burning ones. We gave them credit on their franchise taxes. They responded to that incentive. We saw substantial shift from older, dirty-burning electric generation to natural gas, which is cleaner burning.”
“I want people to know that we went from twenty-seventh in the nation in high school graduation rates to second highest in the nation. I want people to know what we did on criminal justice reform,” Perry said, adding that if voters will look at those two things, plus Texas’ economic growth, they would want to support him.
“That’s what I want people to know. If they’ll just know the facts, then I’m happy that they’ll make the right decision.”
“Our” campaign, not “my” campaign
As a final note, having now listened back through the over 35 minute long recording of our interview a few times, and thinking back on previous conversations with the Governor, an interesting speech pattern can be recognized. Perry frequently uses the first person plural — “we” or “our,” instead of “I” or “my” — when describing his record as Governor, experiences on the campaign trail, and so on. It’s not as clearly seen in the excerpts quoted in these articles, but is far more evident when hearing the interview straight through.
Rather than coming across as an example of pluralis majestatis, the “royal we,” Perry’s use of the first person plural seems far more grounded in his sense of teamwork than any sort of personal ego. The proud Texan certainly is not lacking in any confidence (some might say swagger), but he almost always drops a mention of at least one or two people who played a part in whatever accomplishment he is describing.
For example, when he talks about policies that were enacted while he was Governor, he will describe it as “our record” not “my record,” and he will name the legislators who helped push the bills forward, as he did above regarding Madden and Whitmire’s roles in Texas’ criminal justice reforms. And when he discusses his preparation over the past few years for this campaign — again, describing it as “our campaign” far more than “my campaign” — he mentions his campaign policy advisers, as well as the experts at various think tanks and policy institutes across the country who worked with him.
No single person, including Governors and even Presidents, can possibly be an expert in all aspects of all subjects. The contrast between Perry’s willingness to seek out and respect others who can contribute valuable ideas and President “I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters, better political than my political director” Barack Obama, could not be more stark.
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.
Read Part II, in which he shares 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.
Note: A previous version of this post triggered an automated system that incorrectly confused Perry campaign manager Jeff Miller with U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, whose name is spelled identically. The error has been corrected. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.
[Disclosure: Sarah Rumpf was previously employed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.]
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.