Rick Perry tosses his Stetson into the ring

Texas Governor Rick Perry just threw a ten gallon hat into the ring for the 2012 presidential rodeo, announcing his candidacy for the White House:

“I declare to you today as a candidate for President of the United States,” Perry told a friendly crowd in South Carolina, host to the nation’s third presidential primary.

Perry enters the race as a serious contender for the nomination, one with the potential to combine establishment support (and the strong fund-raising that comes with it) with the backing of social and fiscal conservatives.

Stylistically reminiscent of another Texas governor who sought the presidency – George W. Bush – Perry’s calling card is Texas’ strong record of job creation during his long tenure in the governor’s mansion. As Perry pointed out in his speech, 40 percent of the nation’s new jobs since June 2009 have been created in Texas.

“It’s time to get America working again,” Perry said, arguing that “Recovery is a meaningless word if the bank has foreclosed on your home.”

While Perry spent some of his speech discussing his own record, he spent most of his time attacking the current occupant of the White House. He criticized Mr. Obama’s “unbridled fixation” on spending and suggested the president’s economic policies have “prolonged our national misery, not alleviated it.”

But amid the euphoria surrounding Perry’s announcement some discouraging words were written about the Perry record. The Wall Street Journal’s Charles Dameron called WSJ readers’ attention to one of Perry’s signature initiatives — the Texas Emerging Technology Fund — which could be a problem area for the governor as he faces increased scrutiny:

The Emerging Technology Fund was created at Mr. Perry’s behest in 2005 to act as a kind of public-sector venture capital firm, largely to provide funding for tech start-ups in Texas. Since then, the fund has committed nearly $200 million of taxpayer money to fund 133 companies. Mr. Perry told a group of CEOs in May that the fund’s “strategic investments are what’s helping us keep groundbreaking innovations in the state.” The governor, together with the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the Texas House, enjoys ultimate decision-making power over the fund’s investments.

Among the companies that the Emerging Technology Fund has invested in is Convergen LifeSciences, Inc. It received a $4.5 million grant last year—the second largest grant in the history of the fund. The founder and executive chairman of Convergen is David G. Nance.

In 2009, when Mr. Nance submitted his application for a $4.5 million Emerging Technology Fund grant for Convergen, he and his partners had invested only $1,000 of their own money into their new company, according to documentation prepared by the governor’s office in February 2010. But over the years, Mr. Nance managed to invest a lot more than $1,000 in Mr. Perry. Texas Ethics Commission records show that Mr. Nance donated $75,000 to Mr. Perry’s campaigns between 2001 and 2006.

The regional panel that reviewed Convergen’s application turned down the company’s $4.5 million request when it presented its proposal on Oct. 7, 2009. But Mr. Nance appealed that decision directly to a statewide advisory committee (of which Mr. Nance was once a member) appointed by Mr. Perry. Just eight days later, on Oct. 15, a subcommittee unanimously recommended approval by the full statewide committee. On Oct. 29, the full advisory committee unanimously recommended the approval of Convergen’s application. When asked why the advisory committee felt comfortable recommending Convergen’s grant, Lucy Nashed, a spokesperson for Mr. Perry, said that the committee “thoroughly vetted the company.”

Another area of concern for some conservatives about Rick Perry is the issue of immigration. At The Washington Times, Kerry Picket posted a reminder that Perry is something less than a border hawk:

In the midst of a number of conservatives believing Governor Rick Perry, Texas Republican, is the GOP’s answer to taking on President Barack Obama, squishy aspects of Mr. Perry’s background are being overlooked. As a border state governor, Mr. Perry signed state immigration law in 2001 known as the Texas DREAM Act. Here is an excerpt from a speech Governor Perry gave during the border summit in August of 2001: (bolding is mine)

As a compassionate state, we know that for our children to succeed, they must not only be healthy, but educated. The future leaders of our two nations are learning their fractions and their ABC’s in classrooms all along this border. Immigrants from around the world are being taught in Texas classrooms, and our history is rich with examples of new citizens who have made great contributions. We must say to every Texas child learning in a Texas classroom, “we don’t care where you come from, but where you are going, and we are going to do everything we can to help you get there.” And that vision must include the children of undocumented workers. That’s why Texas took the national lead in allowing such deserving young minds to attend a Texas college at a resident rate. Those young minds are a part of a new generation of leaders, the doors of higher education must be open to them. The message is simple: educacion es el futuro, y si se puede.

Sound familiar? It should. For those political observers who may not pay too much attention to Texas politics but watch their representatives on Capitol Hill, they may remember that Democrats in the Senate have tried repeatedly and failed to pass the DREAM Act and even after the House passed the legislation in late 2010 during the lame duck session before the Republicans took the majority, Senate Democrats did not find the numbers to overcome a likely filibuster.

House Republicans overwhelmingly voted against the bill (216 to 198), and more Democrats crossed the aisle to vote against the legislation (38) than there were Republicans (8) who voted for it.

If Mr. Perry is serious about 2012, he either believes he can convince Republicans to do a complete 180 on illegal immigration in a way that former President George W. Bush could not or Governor Perry thinks the DREAM Act he signed is completely different than what was being argued about on Capitol Hill these past few years.

If Perry sometimes sounds like a Democrat on immigration, it may be because he started out that way. While being a former Democrat in itself doesn’t tarnish one’s conservative credentials (Ronald Reagan himself switched from the party of the donkey to that of the elephant), we wonder how many Perry supporters know that the governor served as Al Gore’s Texas Campaign Chairman in the 1988 presidential election.

- JP

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