White Needs Bite

Bill White won't beat Rick Perry by out-reasoning him
by Published on

In his uphill climb to unseat Texas’ wily, shameless governor-for-life, Democrat Bill White has been eagerly pointing up the whopping contradictions between Rick Perry’s politicking and Rick Perry’s governing (such as it is). And goodness knows, you don’t have to search far to find gaping holes and reckless mischief in Perry’s record, especially when it comes to the “fiscal responsibility” he likes to tout as one of his great assets.

But while White is hitting on many of the right issues, he hasn’t hit on the right zingers. To unseat Perry, White has to do more than convince folks he could be a good governor; he’s got to clinch the case that Perry’s been a lousy one. Which means his attacks have to draw blood. They have to stick. They have to be clever and relentless and catchy (at least in the relative terms of politics). They’ve got to encompass all the negative qualities you want to hurl at Perry—at least as good as “Kay Bailout Hutchison,” which the Perry folks used like a hammer, pounding home the Washington-insider/big-spending/out-of-touch-with-Texas characteristics they wanted to stick on their primary opponent (and did, with Sen. Hutchison’s help).

But so far, White’s not hitting the governor—he’s jabbing him, and leaving no marks. He hasn’t come up with a single anti-Perry phrase that we’ll all soon get sick of hearing, but that will resonate in voters’ minds come November. Instead he’s making cogent arguments, laying out facts, and generally acting as though voters are rational beings and Texas is some kind of Platonic ideal of democracy. If only. Winning in Texas means winning at gut-level politics.

This Tuesday headline from The Austin American-Statesman summed up the trouble pretty well, as it tried to sum up White’s latest “hit”: “White seeks to tie Perry stimulus refusal to higher business jobless taxes.” That’ll get people up in arms!

Then, also on Tuesday, there was a press release from White’s campaign hitting back after Perry defended his refusal to take unemployment-benefits money from that evil empire called Washington. It made some sensible if predictable points. The headline and subhead:

“Rick Perry not accountable to Texas taxpayers
Incumbent’s diversions result in tax increases”

That’s an attack? Wake me when it’s over.

What White is saying about Perry “playing politics” with stimulus money—and costing businesses higher taxes to replenish the state’s empty unemployment benefits fund—is a valid critique. (He’s on shakier ground when he criticizes Perry for taking money for the Texas Enterprise Fund from unemployment taxes—something that has not happened in a while, the Statesman reports.)

White’s people need to get their facts straight, ducks in a row—pick your cliche. But more than anything, they need to learn to give their valid attacks some oomph. There’s a skill to that, and not everyone has it. Perry’s people have it. They understand the value of a catchphrase, the symbolic freight of political terms that make voters cringe. They haven’t quite hit on the perfect one for White (“Mr. Bill,” which Perry’s main voice, Mark Miner, prefers, doesn’t quite get it). But it’s not for lack of trying.

White is doing many of the right things. His TV spots defining himself have generally worked well. He’s convinced a lot of folks he’s a plausible governor. But he hasn’t, so far, done anything much to redefine Perry and make people want to get rid of him. Of course, between his coyote-slaying tale and his talk of the BP/Halliburton oil spill being an “act of God,” the governor’s been doing some of the work for him.

White and his campaign people will have to sharpen their scalpels—and their wits. Rick Perry is ripe for skewering and redefining. He won’t be beaten otherwise.

And in case you’re just dying for a taste of a Bill White press release, here’s a heaping helping:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rick Perry not accountable to Texas taxpayers

Incumbent’s diversions result in tax increases

Statement from Katy Bacon, campaign spokesperson, in response to Rick Perry campaign statement on Texas Enterprise Fund, payroll tax increases on Texas businesses:

Rick Perry is seeking to avoid accountability for raising all employers’ payroll taxes to pay subsidies to individual businesses of his choosing. Perry is ignoring public accountability because it’s inconvenient for his political career to admit what he has done.

The claim that Perry “worked closely with the legislature…to protect taxpayer dollars” is ridiculous given the fact that in 2007, Perry vetoed H.B. 48, a bipartisan bill that would have limited diversions to his Enterprise Fund and reined in Perry’s access to payroll tax dollars.

Questions Remaining

Will Rick Perry restore money he siphoned into his Texas Enterprise Fund to the broke Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund or not? Payroll taxes were increased on all employers during a recession, which hurts job growth. If Perry will restore money to the broke Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, then employers can make the decisions about how to allocate resources to grow their businesses and create jobs.

Will Rick Perry welcome an audit or not? Texans need an audit on the issues raised by Bill White in order to determine the future of the fund. There is evidence of abuse and misuse, but Perry claims that a process was followed and that there is public accountability. If that is the case, Perry should welcome an audit on the following issues:

1. Did the governor conduct sufficient independent analysis of the application before awarding a subsidy?
2. Did the firm fulfill every promise made in the grant application?
3. Were TEF dollars necessary to accomplish the intended purposes?
4. Was there political influence used or were there lobbyists paid to influence decisions about TEF dollars?
5. Did the TEF-subsidized firm compete with other Texas businesses not receiving a subsidy?

However, when asked for documents to prove, for example, that the subsidies were necessary for job creation and that applications by companies were subjected to analysis, the Governor’s Office declined to produce documents and the Attorney General said they would need time to “research the legal issues raised by [the] request.”

Facts about the City of Houston and Bill White

Bill White has supported private sector driven economic development incentives. The City of Houston helps fund regional economic development organizations run by businesspeople. Their budgets are paid in large part by voluntary private sector contributions. As mayor, Bill White supported an ambitious multi-million dollar private, voluntary fundraising effort by the business community to provide a fund for economic incentives.

At no time did the mayor’s task force suggest, and at no time did Bill White agree to taxing employer payrolls to subsidize specific companies.

During Bill White’s time as mayor, the Houston area was a national leader in job growth.