Friday, April 24, 2009

How to secede in politics

Did I hear someone call Rick Perry an idiot? I do believe I did. Do a Google search joining "Rick Perry" and "idiot" and see.

Well, listen: You don't become Texas' longest-serving governor by being an idiot.

The man's no Rhodes scholar, but that's no pea beneath his camo cap.

When he played to an anti-tax crowd with words sounding vaguely amenable to secession, he was using his political noggin.

When asked to clarify, and he didn't, and in fact spritzed the flames of controversy with more home-brewed hooch, he was thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking.

About how to beat Kay.

Hutchison, that is. Sen. Kay.

In the quest to win the hearts and minds of the hard right, the bloc that typically swings Republican primaries in our time, some are conceding a croquet-style "well-played" for Perry's saying at a Texas tea party:

"When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that."

Kudos, added Democrats, printing T-shirts with his picture and: "Class of 2009: Rick Perry — most likely to secede."

Political consultant Bill Miller told The Dallas Morning News "there's no downside for him" in making such an appeal. Considering the voters Perry courts, said Miller, "He can ride that horse all day long."

Except: Texas doesn't have a closed primary system. Anyone can vote in the Republican primary. The only encumbrance would be to get "Republican" stamped on one's ticket, of which the only bearing on one's dignity or future would pertain to voting in a subsequent runoff.

So, in addition to Bible-toting, NRA-joining, aborted-fetus-sign-waving voters, the March GOP primary for governor will draw pro-choice moderates, independents and, yes, many Democrats seeing that particular race as a place to influence the future of Texas.

This should be interesting. It's self-evident that Perry still owns many hearts in this great state. But the spell definitely has worn off in the Statehouse, even among his fellow partisans. Witness that the Senate voted to accept the federal stimulus dollars for unemployment assistance that Sagebrush Rebel Rick said he'd reject.

As for voters: Large numbers apparently became convinced he was more interested in partisan matters than their own when he handcuffed a legislative session to a second-time-in-a-decade congressional redistricting imbroglio.

His big campaign appeal in '06, just enough to gain him 39 percent of the vote, was about banning something already illegal — gay marriage. Again, well-played.

Judging by his relationship with lawmakers and the general public, you could say that Perry fatigue isn't something a soldier wears in a sandstorm.

As for those who vote: Constant and calculated appeals — Karl Rove-style? — to the compacted core of his party make Perry increasingly vulnerable as one who no longer appeals to a winning bloc.

Ultimately, this approach made George W. Bush one of America's least popular presidents, even if it worked twice on presidential Election Day.

Interestingly, while Perry was appealing to the compacted core, Hutchison reportedly was making inroads with another bloc entirely: Hispanics who increasingly are dictating the way elections are won and lost in this state.

Some will say that's no way to win a Republican primary. That depends on who shows up to vote.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald.

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