AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Rick Perry would like to run for president in 2016 as a proven job-creator who modeled Texas’ strong economy in his own political gunslinger image and says he can do the same for the rest of the country.
To do it, he’ll have to convince voters to forget about “Oops.”
It’s the moment when Perry, in the midst of a 2011 presidential debate, was unable to recall the third of three federal agencies he’d promised to shutter, finally muttering “oops.” Asked about the moment in a recent interview with The Associated Press, Perry said, “That’s like going back and asking a football player who dropped a pass to win the Super Bowl, ‘Did that bother you?’ ”
As he looks at running a second time for president, Perry, 64, is banking on his record as governor of Texas to move past “oops.” It’s a strategy that didn’t connect in the last campaign, when the governor’s jobs record was drowned out by that moment and other gaffes, said Ray Sullivan, a former Perry chief of staff and spokesman for his 2012 campaign.
“Our own errors on the campaign trail led to a shortened campaign,” Sullivan said. “So the message got overshadowed.”
Should he run again, Perry will have two more years of his time as Texas governor to try to make the case again.
His state has generated more than a third of the nation’s new private-sector jobs since 2001. While critics say about 6 percent of the state’s hourly wage earners in 2013 got minimum wage or less, fifth highest in the nation, Perry counters that this figure has fallen three straight years since 2010, when Texas’ rate peaked at a national high 9.5 percent.
Perry credits the gangbusters state economy to low taxes, restrained regulation and caps on civil litigation damage awards, as well as improving high school graduation rates. He also oversees two funds offering economic incentives to lure top employers to Texas and repeatedly visited states with Democratic governors to poach jobs.
“You’re the chief yell leader, cheerleader,” said Perry, who was elected yell leader, a coveted campus spirt squad post, while a student at Texas A&M University.
When Waste Connections, Inc., was looking to relocate its headquarters from east of Sacramento in 2011, CEO Ronald Mittelstaedt received calls from both Perry and fellow Republican Gov. Brain Sandoval of Nevada.
“Governor Perry, he is a very down-to-earth, easy to talk to man,” said Mittelstaedt, whose company eventually moved about 100 employees to suburban Houston.
John W. Harrington was laid up after back surgery in 2013 when he heard frequent recruitment radio ads featuring Perry. He soon transplanted his gun shop from California, to Shiner, Texas, a town otherwise famous for its brewery.
“Rick and guns, that’s kind of the epitome of what Texas is all about,” said Harrington, who held a ribbon-cutting barbeque with Perry.
The Perry-administered incentive funds, though, have been savaged by state auditors. They found that The Texas Enterprise Fund, offering deal-closing money to top business and employers, had awarded $222 million to 11 firms and universities that either didn’t apply for the funding or weren’t required to directly create jobs.
And Perry’s Texas Emerging Technology Fund is supposed to bolster high-tech startups, but some firms haven’t filed tax reports or made questionable job claims.
Both also have given money to firms linked to Perry donors, drawing “crony capitalism” complaints from conservative activists. But Perry dismissed that: “I consider myself to be very much an adherent to most of the tea party’s philosophical positions.”
Meanwhile, Texas leads the nation with about a quarter of residents lacking health insurance, and had the country’s highest annual total of workplace fatalities nine times during Perry’s tenure.
“The bragging that he has engaged in about the Texas miracle is going to come under very strict scrutiny and I think people are going to see it’s not what he claims it to be,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party.
Beyond the questions related to how much credit Perry deserves for the Texas economy, and about “oops,” he will also be forced to contend with questions about his felony indictment.
The left-leaning government watchdog group Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint in 2013 when Perry publicly threatened — then made good on — a veto of state funding for public corruption prosecutors, following the Democratic head of the unit’s drunken driving conviction. In August, an Austin grand jury indicted the governor for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.
Perry insists most Americans believe he did nothing wrong and that the case won’t affect any possible presidential aspirations. He concedes that “oops” might, but is hoping voters see it as a test of character.
“It’s easier to judge someone by how they get up from a failure when they’ve been knocked down,” Perry said. “Being tested is a good thing.”