- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Rick Perry has pole-vaulted over Willard “Mitt” Romney to become the top Republican to face President Obama on Election Day 2012. Texas’ governor beat Massachusetts’ former governor 29 percent to 17 percent among Republicans, Gallup reported Wednesday. Mr. Perry deserves this distinction. While he lacks the pro-market purity of the late Milton Friedman, Mr. Perry’s record should satisfy limited-government conservatives far more than Mr. Romney‘s.

As “America’s jobs governor,” Mr. Perry is a one-man antidote to Mr. Obama’s venomous policies, which have held unemployment above 9 percent for 25 of the past 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 the state’s 11th straight month of payroll expansion, with 29,300 Texans finding work. Nearly 11 years into Mr. Perry’s governorship, Texas inarguably is No. 1 in job growth.

During Mr. 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 5 percent. Mr. Romney did keep Massachusetts ahead of Ohio and Michigan - two Rust Belt job sieves - and Louisiana, crushed by Hurricane Katrina.

The libertarian Cato Institute’s Report Card on America’s Governors gives Mr. Perry straight B’s and gives Mr. Romney consistent C’s.

Cato praised Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Perry for partially offsetting this tax relief with a $1-per-pack cigarette tax increase and a gross-receipts tax on business.

Cato observed that Mr. 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 Mr. 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 health care, the free-market Club for Growth (where I have spoken twice ) lauds Mr. Perry for expanding managed care within Medicaid. Among other recent modernizations, a Club for Growth white paper on Mr. Perry explains that “this bill could save Texas nearly $468 million over two years.” After Mr. 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.

The organization credits Mr. Romney for requiring Medicaid patients to co-pay for some treatments and increasing new state workers’ health contributions from 15 percent to 25 percent. But the group describes “Romneycare” as “one lab experiment that has failed.” Romneycare wields an individual mandate. Also, the cost of government-funded medicine has zoomed from $133 million in fiscal 2007 to about $880 million in fiscal 2010 - despite Mr. Romney’s promise that “the costs of health care will be reduced.”

While Club for Growth chides Mr. 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.

Mr. Romney, in turn, boldly told Iowa voters on May 27, “I support the subsidy of ethanol.”

Mr. Perry describes so-called “global warming” as an unproven “scientific theory” and thinks “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,” Mr. Romney declared on 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 former President George W. Bush in style. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney reflects him in substance.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

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