Trib Fest 2012
Governor Rick Perry ignores everything important at the Texas Tribune Festival
The opening ceremonies to the Texas Tribune Festival are not Olympic. There are no dancers, no nervous yet resolute internationals in track suits and no fanfare beyond the overloud chuckles of inter-city journalists fumbling for photo ID at the credentialing table.
I'm here to cover the festival's welcome party, an "interview" with Texas's "Governor," James Richard "Rick" Perry. You might remember him from this summer's blockbuster reality show, "The Republican Party Primary Elections." You can see someone making fun of him here. He was, as you'll recall, voted off the island.
Since he lost, Perry is still the man in the preposterous mansion at 1010 Colorado, which is pleasant to practically nobody. Turns out he renovated that stupid thing (for $24 million!) after it burned in a fire four years ago. At least taxpayers didn't have to foot the full bill — only $21.5 million was appropriated by the legislature for the project.
Perry was busy in the Grand Ballroom, forcing his single good idea — a four-year tuition freeze for incoming college freshmen — into nearly every elusive non-answer that he gave.
The crowd outside the west entrance to the AT&T Conference Center, strung along Whitis Avenue with posterboard and pickets, is composed of people who probably never had money appropriated by the legislature for the renovation of their houses. They're not here to pay attention to the governor, they're here because they want the governor's attention.
Perry is, you may know, one of the group of gubernatorial radicals who have refused funds allocated to their constituency by the Affordable Care Act. The protest outside the festival venue means to indicate to the Governor of Texas that making an ideological stand at the expense of a large percentage of the population is not in fact the will of his people.
To his credit, CEO and editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune, Evan Smith made an honest effort to get any sort of a straight answer out of the governor, regarding the ACA, women's health and other vital details of his budgetary or ideological policy. Things even got heated for a moment. They nearly shouted over each other. It was almost exciting.
Slick Rick Perry, however, performed the principal duty of a politician under journalistic scrutiny and dodged every issue with outrageously competent opacity, responding to each hot- or even warm-button question with "I am completely willing to engage in a vigorous debate on any issue."
Meanwhile, the crowd outside awaited the vigorous debate opponent, and sadly The People v. James Richard Perry did not materialize this evening. Perry was busy in the Grand Ballroom, forcing his single good idea — a four-year tuition freeze for incoming college freshmen — into nearly every elusive non-answer that he gave.
After numerous prods from Smith, Perry did let slip one almost-concrete sentence about his resistance to ACA funding: "Any federal healthcare program is going to make absolutely everything absolutely difficult," he said. "Our children will become stupid in our stupid schools! Our roads will disintegrate and become dust. We will be forced to buy healthcare and thereby we will be destroyed. Do you feel me, Texas? Feel me. Feel me on my prepared point. I prepared it just for you.*"
By the time I managed to escape the Grand Ballroom, only a straggling few of the outdoor demonstrators remained. I had a chat with a few and learned that large numbers of them had come in from other parts of Texas — four buses and three vans from Houston, bus after bus from San Antonio, warm activist bodies rolling in from all corners of the state.
"We just want him to see that what his party wants is not what the people want," one from Houston said. "He needs to know that healthcare is more important than politics."
Maybe it isn't a governor's job to know what actual people actually want. Maybe it's a governor's job to rebuild historical monuments for his family to sleep in. Regardless, be glad you missed his talk. It would've only made you mad.
*This quote attributed to Governor Rick Perry may not be composed of words actually spoken by Governor Rick Perry. Attribution of these words to Governor Rick Perry intends only to make believe that he may have actually said anything worth reading.