AUSTIN (AP) – Texas Gov. Rick Perry promised Tuesday to further embrace tea party values, beat back government spending at every turn and fiercely oppose abortion — while also keeping an eye on rising political stars like George P. Bush.
America’s longest-serving governor and the longest-serving governor in his state’s history, Perry offered The Associated Press a frank assessment of his gaffe-filled, failed run for the White House.
“I laid out my ideas and they weren’t acceptable,” he said in his office at the State Capitol as the Texas Legislature reconvened for its 140-day session. But Perry also said he expects to maintain a keen interest in national politics while ensuring Texas stays a beacon of conservative ideals.
“The conversation in boardrooms and around breakfast tables across the country already is ‘Texas is a special place, economically it’s a special place,”‘ said the governor, who spent the morning with another former candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who was in Austin to address a conservative think tank.
Texas is among the nation’s leaders in job creation and Perry is known as a ferocious campaigner and fundraiser. He was briefly the Republican presidential frontrunner, but his campaign quickly flamed out and became best-known for the debate in which he forgot one of the three federal agencies he had promised to eliminate, then sheepishly murmured “Oops.”
Asked if the tea party may have pulled former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney too far to the right during the general election, Perry said, “I would suggest to you that had he parroted more of their conservative, fiscal policies that he might have been better.”
George P. Bush, grandson of one former president and nephew of another, has announced his intention to run for political office in Texas next year. While he hasn’t said which one, he is expected to seek the land commissioner or possibly attorney general posts — though there have been some rumors he could even challenge Perry for governor in 2014.
An attorney and Spanish-speaker whose mother was born in Mexico, Bush is seen as an up-and-comer among Hispanic Republicans. Perry, who became governor when George W. Bush left for the White House in December 2000, has not ruled out running again next year, or even launching another presidential bid in 2016.
Perry said he saw George P. Bush at a fundraiser in December but had not had a chance to speak to him, though he would welcome such a conversation.
“He knows my phone number,” Perry said. Asked about rumors Bush could challenge him for governor, Perry replied, “I think it’s just that, scuttlebutt.”
Referencing then U.S.-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s unsuccessful 2010 challenge of Perry in the Republican gubernatorial primary, he continued, “There have been many people who have said `I’m going to run for governor,”‘ including Hutchison. “It didn’t work out too well for them.”
Perry addressed both the Texas House and Senate on Tuesday, and said it was time to push for tax cuts. Those comments came a day after Comptroller Susan Combs said a booming state economy had left Texas with a rosy $101.4 billion budget estimate. That was a sharp contrast from a far weaker 2011 prediction, when the recession exacerbated a $27 billion state budget shortfall that triggered mass layoffs of government employees and other deep spending cuts.
The governor told lawmakers “there are interests all across the state who view Monday’s revenue estimates as the equivalent of ringing the dinner bell. They all want more for their causes.”
Instead, he said “we need to ensure consumers and employers alike have more cash on-hand to pay their bills, hire more people, invest in new efforts. We need to reduce our demands on our innovators.”
Perry wouldn’t give specifics during the interview about what kind of tax cuts he hopes to see.
In 2011, the Texas Legislature voted to cut $5.4 billion from schools and educational grant programs for things like full-day pre-kindergarten programs. More than 600 school districts responsible for educating two-thirds of the state’s 5 million-plus public school students are suing Texas, saying the cuts make education funding so inadequate and inequitable that they violate state constitutional guarantees.
Democrats in the Legislature have called for using this year’s added revenue to roll back some of last session’s cuts, but Perry wouldn’t endorse that idea.
“The story has always been, if you’ll just put in more money that will take care of our problem,” said Perry, who said that between 2002 and 2012 state funding for public education increased by 73 percent while enrollment increased by 20 percent.
“I’m not saying that they can’t find a place to spend (more money),” he added, “I’m just saying the Legislature has to make tough calls.”
Perry also has asked lawmakers to ban abortion in Texas after 20 weeks, the point at which he and other anti-abortion activists say a fetus can feel pain. He said of his state, even before such a law is debated, “we already are one of, if not the most, protective of innocent life.”
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