Rick Perry has pole-vaulted over Willard Mitt Romney to become the top Republican to face President Barack Obama on Election Day 2012. Texas' governor beat Massachusetts' former governor 29 percent to 17 percent among Republicans, Gallup reported Wednesday.
Perry deserves this distinction. While he lacks the pro-market purity of Dr. Milton Friedman, Perry's record should satisfy limited-government conservatives far more than Romney's:
- As "America's jobs governor," Perry is the one-man antidote to Obama's venomous policies that have held unemployment above 9 percent for 25 of the last 27 months. Across all 50 states between June 2009 and June 2011, the Dallas Federal Reserve calculates that 49.9 percent of America's net new jobs arose in Texas. July was its 11th straight month of payroll expansion, with 29,300 Texans finding work. Nearly 11 years into Perry's governorship, Texas inarguably is No. 1 in job growth.
During Romney's single, four-year term, however, the U.S. Labor Department ranked Massachusetts No. 47 in job growth. Employment increased just 0.9 percent between January 2003 and January 2007. At that time, U.S. job growth was roughly five percent. Romney did keep Massachusetts ahead of Ohio and Michigan — two Rust Belt job sieves — and Louisiana, crushed by Katrina.
- The libertarian Cato Institute's Report Card on America's Governors gives Perry straight B's and Romney consistent C's.
Cato praised Perry for introducing "a zero-based budget to force the state agencies to justify their continued existence and funding levels" and noted that "he has presided over moderate increases in the Texas general fund budget."
Cato applauded Perry's "substantial achievement": a $6 billion property tax cut in 2004 — including a first-year, $1.5 billion net tax reduction. However, Cato criticized Perry for partially offsetting this tax relief with a $1 per-pack cigarette tax hike and a gross receipts tax on business.
Cato observed that Romney's "first budget, presented under the cloud of a $2 billion deficit, balanced the budget with some spending cuts, but a $500 million increase in various fees was the largest component of the budget fix." Cato also saw that Romney "proposed modest increases to the budget and line-item vetoed millions of dollars each year, only to have most of those vetoes overridden."
- On healthcare, the free-market Club for Growth (where I twice have spoken) lauds Perry for expanding managed care within Medicaid. Among other recent modernizations, a CFG White Paper on Perry explains, "this bill could save Texas nearly $468 million over two years." After Perry's extensive lawsuit reforms, "the number of insurance companies offering medical malpractice insurance soared 650 percent," along with a massive influx of doctors eager to perform diagnoses rather than depositions.
CFG credits Romney for requiring Medicaid patients to co-pay for some treatments and increasing new state workers' health contributions from 15 percent to 25. But CFG describes RomneyCare as "one lab experiment that completely has failed." RomneyCare wields an individual mandate. Also, government-funded medicine has zoomed from $133 million in Fiscal Year 2007 to some $880 million in FY2010 — despite Romney's promise that "the costs of healthcare will be reduced."
- While CFG chides Perry for "well-intentioned, but misguided state-funded subsidy programs to attract corporations to Texas," it praises him for opposing the ethanol program, possibly Washington's grubbiest corporate-welfare scheme.
Romney, in turn, boldly told Iowa voters on May 27: "I support the subsidy of ethanol."
- Perry describes so-called "global warming" as an unproven "scientific theory" and believes that "there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data" on this issue.
"I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that," Romney declared June 3. On Wednesday, he retreated: "I don't know if it's mostly caused by humans."
Conservatives hungry for free — or at least freer — markets are stampeding toward Rick Perry. True, the cowboy-boot-wearing governor recalls President G.W. Bush in style. Unfortunately, Willard Mitt Romney reflects him in substance.
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. Email him at Deroy.Murdock@gmail.com.
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