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Perry: Will He Stay or Will He Go?

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Every morning, people in Texas politics stand in front of their sinks, brushing their teeth, staring at someone they think could someday be the president of the United States.

It is the nature of these beasts.

Before they can proceed with those dreams, however, they need to know what Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, is going to do. He has said he will lay out his political plans in June.

He has made the noises you might make if you were a governor who didn’t want to become a lame duck while the Legislature is in town, saying he’s thinking about another run for the job he has held since late 2000, and would be open to another run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

Most of the statewide officials in Texas have their hearts set on promotion, and most of those opportunities depend on the governor opening a spot and triggering a civic version of the fracking boom.

If he stays, the calculations are different, with those ambitious — and in several cases, aging — politicians considering challenges to incumbents instead of races for open seats.

The governor himself could be ripe for a challenge. Change has been known to work as a political slogan. Other Republicans — Attorney General Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — have the money to run if they so choose.

Speculation about Perry’s plans has made it clear that while he might leave, he will probably not be forced out by political circumstances. It’s up to him.

The arguments?

He is running

He says he might. That’s been the early sign every year since 1997, when Perry was the agriculture commissioner and initiating a run for lieutenant governor. Maybe he won’t this time, but it would be a first.

He remains popular among Republicans. The governor can raise money and has not given his voters a reason to turn him out. As he told WFAA-TV recently, “Why would you want to change?”

He needs a victory. This is the idea that a governor coming off a failed presidential run needs to show national Republicans that he is politically viable, popular at home and capable of raising the money it takes to run a state race, much less a national one.

It’s better to run for president from the Governor’s Mansion. It worked for George W. Bush, didn’t it? Important people return calls from governors that they might not return from former governors.

He's not running

It would be an election with an asterisk. Texans might ask why they are electing a governor to a term that he wants to end in two years with another presidential run. In the alternative, they might wonder why anyone in his right mind would want to be governor for 18 years, which is the mark Perry would hit at the end of another term. Maybe he will call for a change before the voters do.

Losing an election in 2014 would pop the balloon. The governor, if he wants to run for president again, starts at a disadvantage because of his previous showing. A loss in his home state after 24 years as a statewide official would be a hard sell, especially if the other Republican candidates mention it every five minutes or so.

It is better to run for president without the burden of a job. Leaving office at the beginning of 2015, when this term is over, would free the governor to go on the paid speaking circuit, putting money in his own bank account while mingling with people who might consider supporting his next campaign for the presidency. It would also remove any risks associated with a 2015 legislative session, from bad bills to political fights to budget problems.

The team has disbanded. Most of the people who have helped Perry win that string of six statewide elections have dispersed. They run agencies, work as lobbyists or do political consulting. The tight teamwork that has marked successful Perry campaigns is in question, and that might be a sign that 2010 was the governor’s last statewide run.

There’s something for everybody else to think about, while they’re brushing their teeth.

Ross Ramsey is managing editor of The Texas Tribune and continues as editor of Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter on government and politics in the Lone Star State, a role he's had since September 1998. Texas Weekly was a print-only journal when he took the reins in 1998; he switched it to a subscription-based, internet-only journal by the end of 2004 without a significant loss in subscribers. As Texas Weekly's primary writer for 11 years, he turned out roughly 2 million words in more than 500 editions, added an online library of resources and documents and items of interest to insiders, and a daily news clipping service that links to stories from papers across Texas. Before joining Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey was associate deputy comptroller for policy with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also working as the agency's director of communications. Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin bureau chief. Prior to that, as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, he wrote for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ramsey got his start in journalism in broadcasting, working for almost seven years covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas.
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