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DMN JAN 13 2010

If at first you don’t secede, try, try again. It was last April 15, the cruelest day of the cruelest month, when Gov. Rick Perry appeared at a tea party in Austin and told an agitated  crowd, disturbed about taxes due that moment, that the country was being strangled by taxation, spending and debt, this from the Huffington Post. Afterward, he explained to reporters that Texas could secede from the U.S. anytime it wanted to, though he wasn’t pressing for it then. However, he said, “Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”

Of course that’s so. It’s also the case that Texans face a compelling question: Do they want Rick Perry to lead them for 14 years, two years longer than Franklin Delano Roosevelt served the nation as president? (It would have been 16 had he not died early in his fourth term.)  The answer must lie in the qualities of the governor himself and those of his opponents. It’s not a matter of who is the most conservative. There’s not a single mad, raving radical in the race, in either party, at least not one with a realistic chance of winning. So voters must ask themselves who can best not only govern but personify the state in the demanding days ahead — Rick Perry; his primary challenger, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison; or former Houston Mayor Bill White, the likely Democratic victor.

The urgent issue is economic. Tea party people are not wrong about that. In fact, they open for Republicans an opportunity to reclaim their role as a political gathering place of small business, big business, manufacturing and finance after a decade devoted to evangelism. But a stand against taxes alone will damage the state, just as Proposition 13 did persistent harm to California over 30 years ago, capping property taxes at one percent of full cash value and requiring a two-third’s majority in both houses of the legislature to raise taxes. So loudly does the trouble generated then  reverberate even today that Texas is picking up blazing talent that cannot be supported any longer by the gloomy sunshine state.

To avoid the fate of California, Texas needs a governor who can bring a nuanced approach to the straightened budget that lies ahead. Costs will have to be cut, of course, but in a manner that is sensible, that does not undermine the future. Deficits are illegal under the state constitution. Hence a political philosophy based on cutting the deficit may be appropriate for national politics, but it has no application to Texas. A candidate for governor who harps only on taxes and deficits may not have much that is serious to offer in our current circumstances. Thinking more creatively than that is needed. Look for a fox who knows many things, not a hedgehog who knows just one thing. This should be the Texas way in the days ahead.

But what about the Democrats, who apparently don’t go in for tea? These are the voters who in some instances have the most to lose from the coming contortion to balance the budget. They are known as urban consumers of schools and social programs, both of which are pitiably deficient already in Texas. Their role, it would seem, and that of their party, is to inform the necessary slashes, as humanely as possible.

As they search for imagination in Austin, Texans also must face their true situation. More than likely, this still is a Republican state. Bill White, from the world of law, energy and real estate, would give Democrats their best shot in years. Even so, the critical conversation will be over tea. Let’s hope those voters, and the moderates who join them at the polls to choose among Kay Bailey Hutchison, Debra Medina and Rick Perry, will be thoughtful, farsighted and wise.