What was on January 20, 2001, less than exemplary news for the greater conservative nation was a change for the better in Lone Star State governance, as Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry rose via the process of orderly succession to succeed the newly minted President George W. Bush in the Texas executive mansion. What began by default procedural ascension has become one of the most consistently conservative tenures in recent American political history.
Arriving in Austin alongside the new Governor was a Texas Senate controlled by Republicans for the first time since Reconstruction. But, saddled with a wayward lieutenant governor in David Dewhurst, whose actions then and now indicate he wishes to be some sort of political hybrid of Arlen Specter and John McCain, and a still-Donkey dominated House, the 2001 legislative session was less than stellar in conservative execution.
Move forward to the Day at the Races in 2002, and the Texas Republican faithful removed the last hurdle to serious, fundamental change, making the House too an Elephantary voting ground.
And none too soon; the post-September 11, 2001, fiscal dearth descended upon Austin, and the legislators convened in 2003 facing a $10 billion budgetary shortfall.
Undaunted, and without complaint or pretext, Governor Perry pressed ahead and eliminated in toto the deficit, with nary a dime in taxes raised or incepted. He instead did what conservatives wish every level of government would do when facing issues concerning their coin.
He zeroed out the entire budget, and made each department and every individual seeking funding justify every dollar spent the previous period, and thereby re-validate their fiscal renewal, if not their very existence.
Gone was the practice of status quo budgeting, where the automatic assumption is every previous dollar was spent wisely and well (we will pause whilst you laugh uproariously...; we now continue) and that everyone and everything governmental will need at the very least that much, plus a bump for population growth and inflation, the next go-'round. By so doing, Governor Perry eliminated many duplicitous programs and copious amounts of wasted coin in the myriad levels of Dante's Lone Star bureaucratic hell.
Also dissipating into the legislative ether was the deficit that had once loomed so large over Austin's city limits. After Governor Perry's four month frugal charge up Texas' Capitol Hill, the budget stood definitively in balance (and today is flush with an $8.6 billion surplus).
CONTAINED WITHIN THIS CONSERVATIVE monetary accomplishment were many of the little steps that are always necessary to make the Grand March to fiscal sanity.
The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was one of the governmental "entitlements" most bloated by the late 1990s' period of pronounced governmental inebriation. Stuck with the hangover from a party to which he was not invited, Governor Perry implemented simple reforms that drastically reduced the amount of rampant fraud and abuse at play in the plan.
He also oversaw the beginnings of the privatization of delivery of many social services, which not only made it easier for those availing themselves of Other People's money to do so, it also substantially reduced the amount of money those Other People were forced to provide therefore (including another dramatic reduction in programmatic swindle, to the tune of $1.5 billion thus far).
Through it all, the Governor has maintained a tremendous pro-business clime, earning him Site Selection Magazine's Governor's Cup the last two years running as the man presiding over the most productive (in jobs and growth) and business tax-and-regulatory friendly state in the land.
Texas was also faced with a medical crisis (okay, two medical crises, one other than the waves of illegal aliens invading emergency rooms statewide by way of the Rio Grande). Too many lottery lawsuits against physicians had found jackpot pay dirt, and far too many practitioners had thusly left to ply their wares elsewhere.
So Governor Perry delivered Proposition 12, which limited (only) the punitive damages awarded in these sweepstake suits. Three years later, the number of doctors engaged in Texas medicine has increased sharply, and the costs incurred therefore have dropped precipitously. Oh, and one is far less likely to die awaiting treatment.
He followed that up with reform of the windfall insanity that is the asbestos tort claims process, ensconcing the heretofore non-existent requirement that one actually be ill as a result of asbestos before filing an asbestos assertion. He put in place a legislative blockade on lawsuits against the fast food industry for having the temerity to serve people the fare they order.
He also established eminent domain abuse protections, which prevent the government from condemning one's home so that a more levy lucrative Four Seasons Hotel might be built in its place.
BUT GOVERNOR PERRY'S EFFECTIVENESS extends far beyond the merely fiscal. He has signed a parental consent for minors' abortion law, as well as overseen the overwhelming (78 percent in favor) ratification of a constitutional amendment protecting actual marriage.
Texas remains a law and order state, and the Governor has steadfastly continued the utilization of the death penalty, as well as signed several pieces of aggressive protective legislation regarding sexual predators.
Governor Perry's defense of his constituents against the invasionary forces from south of the border has been unwavering, and increasingly stringent as it became ever more obvious that his Texas predecessor has no interest in attending to this portion of his new job.
The Governor implemented Operations Rio Grande and Linebacker, which (amongst many other brim assistances) mobilized the Texas Rangers (the ones with guns, not bats and balls), state troopers, and additional other law enforcement personnel and equipment to back the play of the Border Patrol, and provide added protection for the citizens being robbed and run over, and often much worse, by the hordes from Central and South America (and points Middle East).
Governor Perry also rode to the rescue of the dynamically inept duo, Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco, providing a place for 300,000+ Louisianans to go (and remain still) after their elected officials' bumbling of the post-Hurricane Katrina flooding, and then deftly handled the horrific impact of Hurricane Rita on his own state.
THERE ARE MANY MORE THINGS of lower profile, but no less conservative in nature, that have been put into place by Governor Perry. There are also some things on which he has faltered, falling far short of the conservative ideal. (Just passed in special session is a large, broad and incoherent business tax to offset much needed and Texas Supreme Court mandated property tax reduction.)
Much assistance has been provided by the conservative legislators in the House and (to a lesser degree) the Senate, of which Governor Perry is appreciatively aware. And, of course, the Texas press corps roundly loathes the Governor for being conservative, effective, and handsome all at the same time, about which he simply does not care.
It is this apathy toward liberal disdain for his policies and person that may be the defining of what are innumerable conservative characteristics infixed in the man. Governor Perry, critics be damned, has taken the Lone Star State a long way further than did his predecessor, as well as just about anyone else in charge anywhere else in the United States.
And now that, for good or ill, the tax shift is behind him, conservatives throughout the country should watch closely the Governor and his state for the multitude of Starboard laws sure to follow his almost assured reelection come November, as Texas once again becomes the nation's conservative petri dish, with Scientist Perry leading the legislative laboratory.