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Wednesday, April 29, 2009 01:03 am

Here’s what’s up with the governor of Texas

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Texas politics has long been a source of great amusement for the people of our state, but it’s often a source of bafflement for people beyond our borders. So, sometimes there’s a need to explain what’s going on here, and this is one of those times. In this case, the explanation is simple: Our governor is a goober.

Texans have known this for some time, but Rick Perry — whose chief claim to fame had been that he has a spectacular head of hair — was unknown outside the state, so he was our little secret. Now, however, Perry’s gooberness has gone viral. He’s a YouTube phenomenon and a new darling of the GOP kingmaker, Rush Limbaugh.

He broke into national consciousness on April 15, when he spoke at one of the many “teabag” rallies that Republican operatives set up around the country to protest Barack Obama’s deficit spending. Appearing in Austin before a boisterous crowd of about a thousand people who were fuming about everything from gun control to the Wall Street bailout, the governor opened with this shot: “I’m sure you’re not just a bunch of right-wing extremists. But if you are, I’m with you.”

Then came the thought that earned him YouTuber-of-the-Day and a favorable mention from Lord Limbaugh: Texas just, By God, might secede from the union if Washington keeps messing with us.

No doubt many people in the other 49 states burst into applause at this notion, but it caused quite a bit of consternation among home folks, who rather like being both Texans and Americans. Was he serious? Apparently so. When reporters asked afterward about the legality of such a rash move, Perry pointed out that Texas had entered the union under a unique agreement that gave us the right “to leave if we decided to do that.” Good line, but utterly untrue. No such agreement ever existed.

Facts aside, what’s going through Perry’s perfectly coiffed head is that polls presently show him losing his re-election bid in next year’s Republican primary. Thus, he’s scrambling to excite the most rabid of the Texas GOP fringe by posing as a courageous defender of Texas sovereignty against meddlers from Washington. His chief target is $555 million in federal money that would come to our state under Obama’s economic stimulus program. This is desperately needed money that would go straight into our nearly broke unemployment compensation fund, but he asserts that he will reject it, claiming that the federal dollars come with strings attached.

The “strings” are actually simple and sensible threads of reform that would help the hard-hit workaday people of our state. For example, the federal stimulus program requires that part-time workers also be eligible for unemployment comp. In today’s harsh economy, when part-time work is all that many people can get, they ought to be covered, too. But common sense has never met Perry, much less befriended him, so he continues to posture: “We think it’s time to draw the line in the sand and tell Washington that no longer are we going to accept their oppressive hand in the state of Texas,” he recently spewed.

Yes, comandante, but what about that other $16 billion or so in Obama’s stimulus money that you are going accept? For example, while you slap away funds to help working folks, you’re eagerly reaching out with your other hand to grab $1.2 billion of those filthy federal dollars to put into your pet project of saddling Texans with a network of privatized toll roads. If it’s a matter of principle, why not reject all federal money? Indeed, you used to be a cotton farmer who benefited from Washington’s crop subsidy programs — how oppressive was that for you?

OK, our governor has not quite attained the Blagojevichian level of gubernatorial gooberness, but he’s a striver, and he’s only one bad haircut away from getting to the top. Illinois, we feel your pain.

Jim Hightower is a national radio

commentator, columnist and author.

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