Petty, Piddling Perry

Petty, Piddling Perry

Houston gets high praise in the governor’s book—while Bill White gets dissed by omission.

When word came down in early September that the publication of Gov. Rick Perry’s Tea Party primer, Fed Up!, was being delayed until after the election, most folks assumed that it was purely a matter of canny timing. Perry’s delusional and poorly hidden itch to run for president was surely, everybody thought, at the root of the rescheduling. With the book coming out immediately after Nov. 2, Perry would be able to launch a national book tour that would double as an exploratory presidential campaign after he cruised to victory over overmatched Democrat Bill White. 

Now that the thing is out, it’s clear—to those of us who have actually made our way through its 185 pages of Glenn Beck borrowings—that there might have been another reason for the publication delay. When Perry talks about the goodness and greatness of Texas, comparing it to the relentless evil and wanton destructiveness of “Washington,” one of his prime pieces of evidence is the city of Houston. More specifically, things that Houston accomplished under a certain three-term Democratic mayor by the name of Bill White—a name that, very conspicuously, never once appears in Fed Up!

As he discusses the socialistic excesses of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, Perry makes the extravagantly ludicrous claim that “Texas’ commonsense system has been hugely successful in tackling air pollution.” To wit? “Houston is second only to Atlanta in the total percent [sic] decrease in ozone for metropolitan areas, this while Houston’s population increased by 20 percent.” Of course, this had nothing to do with the Houston mayor’s deft handling of polluters—or his battles against the laughably lax regulatory processes of Perry’s Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has never seen a polluter it wouldn’t give a green light to.

But it is Perry’s petty, deeply dishonest account of Houston’s praiseworthy response to Hurricane Katrina that truly takes the cake. In his first chapter, “America Is Great, Washington Is Broken,” Perry’s main example of the saintly “character of our people” in Texas is the fact that “[t]he people of Harris County did not hesitate to welcome as many as 200,000 residents of New Orleans, processing tens of thousands of evacuees and working hard to find shelter, food, clothes, medicine, and other basic necessities.”

Who led this admirable effort? In Perry’s account, then-Houston Mayor White is entirely absent from the scene. In a chapter titled “States Do the Work of the People,” Perry himself takes the bulk of the credit for Texas’ response to Hurricane Katrina—using Houston, again, as his prime example. White has been justly credited and praised for his moral and pragmatic leadership—not only in welcoming the huddled masses from New Orleans, but more importantly in setting up successful programs to find them long-term housing, jobs and educational opportunities. The mayor won the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his efforts. But if you buy Perry’s account, you’d never know that White had a darn thing to do with any of it.

“Our state’s emergency management team, a division within the Department of Public Safety, was working with local officials across Texas to be ready for possible evacuees,” Perry writes. “Judge Robert Eckels was in charge of the Citizen Corps in Harris County, Texas, a program launched by President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11, to be set up by local citizens to respond to area emergencies, and he coordinated with state, federal, and Louisiana officials.”

Praising Eckels is well and fine. But giving him exclusive credit for Houston’s Katrina response is patently absurd. As the Houston Chronicle reported at the time, “White, the commanding former CEO, has taken charge, and Eckels, the genial former state representative, seems comfortable with that. … White has shaped much of the official response to the hurricane. He formed and chairs the Katrina Working Group, the large panel at the city-run George R. Brown Convention Center that weighs evacuees’ needs and plans accordingly. He’s spearheaded the effort to obtain corporate help and to move the evacuees out of shelters and into apartments and houses.”

Perry damn well knows that White’s leadership defined the response. But he goes out of his way to avoid giving his vanquished foe the slightest scintilla of credit. “The schedule was cleared for the Astrodome through December,” he writes—as if it simply happened. (Act of God, maybe?) Instead, it was “the people of Houston” who “stepped up to the plate. They did the vast majority of the work and the organization, getting together the cots, blankets, pillows, security, food, medicine, water, and all the basic necessities of life. They enrolled children in schools and organized a network of people to open their homes. They did it because it was the right thing to do.” And they did it, apparently, without a mayor challenging and prodding and encouraging and organizing them.

So there was, clearly, another reason for delaying the release of Fed Up! Maybe Perry’s people realized that it wouldn’t do to be praising Bill White’s Houston while the governor was busy trashing and distorting the Democrat’s record as mayor. Or maybe they feared that Perry’s piddling refusal to deny White his due for Houston’s accomplishments would make the governor look like a hypocritical jerk. Which it certainly does.

While Fed Up!—which reads like a boilerplate “Tea Party for Dummies” manual—reveals precious little about the governor’s elusive character, Perry’s diss-by-omission of White speaks volumes about the sorry stuff this man is made of. Even in a book that would be coming out after his race against White was over, the governor couldn’t bring himself to muster up the common decency and basic honesty to give him even the tiniest measure of recognition for his leadership after Katrina—the single most praiseworthy example of political leadership in recent Texas history.

It’s no surprise that Fed Up! reveals Perry as a dimwitted anti-government tool. But praising Bill White’s Houston, while bending over backward to ignore the mayor’s role, is downright classless and egregiously, unnecessarily insulting—both to White and to the truth. In this book, Bill White is beneath mentioning. And the governor of Texas is beneath contempt.

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