Last week NEWSWEEK contributor Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune met with Gov. Rick Perry to talk about W, Obama, the New Deal, and his own political future. Excerpts:
Exactly one year ago today you were on the steps of Austin City Hall, talking about the possibility of secession.
I said that we live in an incredibly wonderful country, and I see absolutely no reason for that to ever happen. But I do understand people's concern and anger about what this administration is doing from an economic standpoint—in particular, the long-term debt that's being created for not only them but for future generations.
A year later, you're more resolute about the divide between the states and the federal government.
The federal government wants to be the epicenter of all thought and policy and one-size-fits-all. It's very clear that we have very, very different ideas about the structure of this country and how it should work. The tea parties are a reflection of that. I think they are highly economic-driven. At the end of the day, it is about the economy—that's really what drives people. Government is basically saying, "I don't care how hard you work. We are going to take more of [your money], because we know best how to redistribute it around the country." It really irritates a lot of Americans.
As you know, our state has the highest percentage of its citizens without insurance: senior citizens, children, working families. If you don't like reform coming out of Washington, what do you do to solve that problem?
For over two years we've had a waiver request in front of the [federal government]—before this administration got in place, I might add—that would allow us some flexibility to use federal dollars differently than what's mandated by the federal government to create insurance opportunities for those who are uninsured today. That's one example.
We are about to enter a legislative session with a biennial budget shortfall of anywhere from $10 billion to $20 billion, depending upon whom you talk to. Last session, the federal stimulus was used to help balance our books—and to help pay down our debt from two sessions ago. By the way, if you hate the feds so much, why did you take $16 billion in stimulus money?
Texas is a major donor state. We Texans send billions of dollars to Washington, D.C., in the form of federal gas taxes and income taxes. These are Texas-earned, Texas-generated dollars—monumental amounts of money, substantially more than flows back into this state. So the idea that we're going to be purer than pure and not take any money back because it's been identified as stimulus dollars? These are our dollars. This is our money.
You've been in public office for more than 25 years, and you are the longest-serving governor in the history of the state. Yet you've managed to run for the last few months as an outsider.
I disagree that I paint myself as somehow outside. Now, I did run a campaign as us—Texas—versus Washington. Washington is the center of bad public policy in most people's opinion and has been for some time—not just in this current administration, though this administration is carrying it to new levels. Do you want Texas to be run the way it has been run, with a Texas-centric philosophy, or do you want this person from Washington, D.C., to come down here and use Washington-style policies and philosophies? I think the people sent a pretty strong message.
A couple of different times in this conversation, you've alluded to having to battle problems that predated the Obama administration. I can't help but notice that you have a bust of Ronald Reagan, whom you consider to be a great president, over your shoulder. I don't see a bust anywhere of George W. Bush.
Um, I don't know whether George's gotten any busts done yet.
Do you consider Bush to have been a great president?
At the end of the day, when the history books are written, I think George W. Bush will go down as a very, very good president. Approaching great? I don't know yet—I mean, a year and a half after he's been out of office may be a little too early to write George's history. But here is why he was an incredibly good president: because the man kept America safe.
When you said [last] week at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference that America has been flying in the fog for too long, you were likewise talking about a time before Obama administration.
Oh, yeah, since the '30s. If Americans want to really go back and historically engage when we really got off track, it started with Franklin Roosevelt and the start of the Great Depression and the maneuvering of Roosevelt and Congress as they started to pull power into Washington, D.C., and create government programs and government agencies.
You're opposed to the New Deal?
Yes. I think the programs created by the New Deal and the monetary jury-rigging that went on in our society exacerbated the Great Depression and pushed us farther down. The New Deal did not get America out of the Great Depression; World War II did. Generally speaking, the expansion of government at the federal level has not, by and large, been good for the American people.
Everybody wants to know about your plans for 2012. Are you considering running and would you consider it?
No and no.
You are not considering running for president. You will not run for president.
Under any circumstances?
Vice president? Would you be willing to consider that?
No. I don't care about going to Washington, D.C.
Your party could not come to you and say, "Governor, all the other alternatives are wanting. You're our guy."
There will be an alternative that is not wanting. I have a great interest in who this individual is going to be, but I want to be a governor who is leading a state. Our policies, and the results of those policies, are worth having a national dialogue about. I want people elected to Congress, to the United States Senate, and to the presidency in 2012 with the express message that we are going to go to Washington and try to make Washington as inconsequential in your life as we can. I want the states to become the laboratories of innovation and experimentation. And I want to get this country back.