Former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) is earning positive buzz as he enters the second month of his second presidential campaign, after an emotional and hard-hitting speech on race and economics.
In an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Perry rejected both the divisive racial politics of the left and the tendency of the right to shy away from directly confronting this country’s still-lingering racial issues. In his remarks, Perry made a direct appeal to African-American voters about why conservative policies — specifically those that he had championed in Texas — were better able to give their families the best chance at the American dream.
Perry’s speech, which is worth reading in full, featured brutally honest discussions of historical events, beginning with the horrific story of a 17-year-old black boy named Jesse Washington, who was brutally tortured and lynched by a mob outside a county courthouse in Waco, Texas in 1916.
Washington’s lynching, said Perry, was an event that could not be ignored, and demanded action:
Even today, we Texans struggle to talk about what happened to Jesse Washington. We don’t want to believe that our great state could ever have been the scene of such unimaginable horror.
But it is an episode in our history that we cannot ignore. It is an episode we have an obligation to transcend.
We’ve made a lot of progress since 1916.
One example of that progress that Perry experienced was when, as Governor of Texas, he appointed Wallace Jefferson to be the first black Texas Supreme Court Justice and then, in 2004, made Jefferson Texas’ first black Chief Justice.
“There are tens of thousands of stories like Wallace Jefferson’s,” continued Perry, describing America as “a country with Hispanic CEOs, and Asian billionaires, and a black President.”
“When it comes to race, America is a better and more tolerant and more welcoming place than it has ever been. So why is it that even today, so many black families feel left behind?” asked Perry, noting that African-Americans continued to economically lag behind other Americans.
Democrats have long had the opportunity to govern in African-American communities.
It is time to help black families hold them accountable for the results.
I am here to tell you that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who are truly offering black Americans the hope of a better life for themselves and their children.
I am proud to live in a country with an African-American President. But President Obama cannot be proud of the fact that the prevalence of black poverty has actually increased under his leadership.
Acknowledging that the “historical legacy” of slavery and segregation had a role in black poverty — a statement not frequently heard from Republican politicians — as well as the government role in sanctioning both of those evils, Perry said there did need to be a role for government in “addressing their lasting effects.”
However, said Perry, the Democrats’ solutions had a proven track record of failure, giving examples of the billions of dollars spent on Medicaid with no improvement in health outcomes, and the downward spirals seen in Democrat-run cities including Detroit, Baltimore and Chicago.
“[T]he specific policies advanced by the President and his allies on the left amount to little more than throwing money at the problem and walking away,” said Perry. Black families are recognizing this, voting with their feet by moving to cities such as Dallas and Houston. In fact, more blacks moved to Texas from 2005 to 2007 than any other state except Georgia.
“Each new resident was welcomed to Texas, with open arms,” said Perry, acknowledging that while his state hadn’t eliminated black poverty, it had made meaningful progress. According to Perry, the supplemental poverty rate for blacks is 20 percent, as compared to 26 percent in New York, 30 percent in California, and 33 percent in Washington, D.C.
The way this was accomplished, explained Perry, was a combination of tort reforms, low taxes and regulations that not only attracted jobs, but also kept the cost of living low. The Texas economic miracle meant that there were a lot of jobs available for people who wanted them, and the state’s policies meant that the salaries people earned stretched a lot further than in other states.
Because we curtailed frivolous lawsuits and unreasonable regulations in Texas, it’s far cheaper to do business in Dallas or Houston than in Baltimore or Detroit. And those lower costs get passed down to consumers – especially low-income consumers – in the form of lower prices.
There’s a lot of talk in Washington about income inequality. But there’s a lot less talk about the inequality that arises from the high cost of everyday life.
In blue-state coastal cities, strict zoning laws and environmental regulations have prevented builders from expanding the housing supply. That’s great for the venture capitalist who wants a nice view of San Francisco Bay, but it’s not so great for the single mother working two jobs in order to pay rent and still put food on the table for her kids.
While his policy platform is in the final stages of development, Perry did discuss his plan for welfare reform. A one-size-fits-all program did not serve people’s needs, said Perry, noting that someone in California might need more housing assistance, for example.
Perry’s solution would be to send to Congress a welfare reform bill that would split the funds for non-health care-related, anti-poverty programs into two parts. The first part would be a reformed and expanded version of the Earned Income Tax Credit “so that anyone with a job can live above the poverty line. The second would be “a block grant so that states can care for their safety net populations in the manner that best serves their residents.”
Texas also saw significant improvement in its education system, noted Perry proudly, going from 27th in the U.S. in 2002 to 2nd in 2013 for high school graduation rates. The improvement was even better for minority students, with Texas earning the top rate for both African-American and Hispanic students.
Perry also cited his support for the substantive criminal justice reforms enacted in Texas. As Breitbart News previously reported, during Perry’s tenure as Governor, he encouraged the Texas Legislature to pass bills that invested money into diversion programs, drug treatment, and other alternatives to incarceration instead of building prisons.
Perry focused on the human impact of Texas’ reforms. “Too many Texans were going to prison for non-violent drug offenses. And once they got out of prison, many found they couldn’t get a job because they had a criminal record.”
The results have been remarkable, with the state saving some $2 billion and closing three prisons, while the crime rate dropped to its lowest level since 1968. Violent crime, property crime, juvenile offense and recidivism all dropped across the board.
There is also a political advantage, as this kind of criminal justice reform has cheerleaders on both the right and the left, and is an issue with major potential for crossover appeal. Polling has consistently shown strong bipartisan support for these reforms, and with Perry having been governor of the state that is serving as the national model for criminal justice, he owns this issue as no other candidate, Democrat or Republican, can.
Perry then turned his remarks to politics, and the ongoing challenges that Republicans have had earning black votes. “I am running for President because I want to make life better for all people, even those who don’t vote Republican,” he said, but “I know Republicans have much to do to earn the trust of African-Americans.”
Reaffirming his support for the Tenth Amendment, Perry acknowledged that conservatives’ support for the states’ rights protected therein sounded similar to the arguments used by segregationists, even though that was not their intention. Rather, Perry explained, his enthusiasm for the Tenth Amendment was rooted in the principle that “state governments are more accountable to you than the federal government.”
However, Perry said, he was “also an ardent believer in the Fourteenth Amendment,” which guarantees that the government shall not deny any person the equal protection of law. Including the rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment in any discussion about the Tenth was critically important, said Perry, if the Republican Party wanted to retain its “moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln”:
Too often, we Republicans – myself included – have emphasized our message on the Tenth Amendment but not our message on the Fourteenth – an Amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the first great contributions of the Republican Party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery.
For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found that we could win elections without it. But when we gave up on trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln. As the party of equal opportunity for all.
It is time for us to once again reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African-Americans.
In a question-and-answer session after his prepared remarks, Perry first answered a question about entitlement reform. Yes, said Perry, he would support means testing, quipping, “I’m pretty sure that Donald Trump can do without Medicare.” The idea that the wealthiest Americans “have to be in line for all those entitlement programs doesn’t make sense to me.” His detailed plan for entitlement reform, as well as his tax plan, would be released soon, he promised.
Perry also elaborated on his experience, an issue that he has made central to his campaign. “This is not my first rodeo,” he said, noting he had served in the Texas Legislature and as Lieutenant Governor — an office that in Texas wields enormous influence over the Senate and the overall legislative agenda — before becoming Governor, an office which he held for fourteen years.
He emphasized that none of the reforms enacted while he was Governor — even the 2003 tort reform that made Democrats howl — was passed with only Republican votes. “There are a lot of things that we agree on,” said Perry, and significant progress can be made with even a staunchly conservative agenda, if you work to “find those things we agree on, bring Democrats and Republicans together.”
“It makes sense to come up with ways to come together, not divide us,” said Perry. “We need a President who will bring this country together,” the way he was able to bring Texas together, and send a “powerful, powerful message” to the American people.
Perry criticized Donald Trump’s recent comments regarding Mexican immigrants. “I don’t think Donald Trump’s remarks reflect the Republican Party,” he said. Instead, said Perry, the GOP was reflected in “people like me” who had worked with people of all backgrounds in Texas, and in Eva Guzman, who was the first Hispanic appointed to the Supreme Court of Texas. Perry later elaborated more on his criticism of Trump in a Fox News interview, as Breitbart News reported.
In Texas, added Perry, Hispanics are 40 percent more likely to have a job and two times more likely to own a small business. And his successor, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), had campaigned on a platform of tough border security, but still won the Hispanic vote by a solid margin.
“[Hispanic Texans] knew that there was a government in place that represented their values and protected them and kept them secure,” said Perry. “It is unquestionable what we have done” in Texas to improve Texans’ economic potential, and provide security, and this was something that reaches all people. “I think we have a great message…the Republican Party is where they need to be.”
Perry also cited his military experience, as the only candidate other than extreme longshot Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in the Republican presidential primary who had served.
He was also one of the very few who had felt the burden of what it is to be a Commander-in-Chief during the war on terror, seeing Texans deployed, and “looking into the eyes of spouses and parents who lost their loved ones.” Perry, who has been very outspoken in his criticism of the Obama administration’s poor response to the VA hospital scandals, also spoke of “looking into the eyes of young people” who had volunteered to serve our country, but when they returned, did not receive the care they were owed.
These veterans “need a champion,” said Perry, “who goes into the White House every day” to fight for them.
“I am a unique candidate,” said Perry. “Those experiences are unique. No one else on that stage — no one — has that experience,” and after eight years of Obama, “Americans will be looking for someone with experience, a known leader, someone with a record of success.”
As noted, Perry’s speech was widely praised. Following a strong campaign launch and solid first few weeks where he was impressing both grassroots activists and policy wonks, Perry was commended for both his laudable record, but also for his blunt, honest remarks about race and how the Republican Party had failed to reach African-Americans.
National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke voiced what many seemed to be thinking when he tweeted, “I’ve been unexpectedly impressed with Rick Perry this week. Another National Review contributor, Yuval Levin, called the speech “an an ambitious and impressive performance,” adding that he was “hoping it sets the tone for the coming campaign.”
Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard tweeted his prediction that Perry would move up in the polls in the aftermath of this speech, noting that Perry “could claim to be the anti-DC, anti-establishment candidate who has actually governed.”
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.