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Conversations with the Candidates: Gov. Rick Perry (R)

posted on December 6, 2011

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Hello, I'm Dan Miller.  Thank you for joining us.  You're about to see something unusual, a conversation about issues and ideas, civil and substantive between one of Iowa's top political journalists and the candidates whose quests for the presidency she covers.  This series of conversations is defined as much by what it isn't as by what it is and it most certainly is not today's typical television fare.  It isn't a debate, a shout fest nor a game of gotcha.  There are no audiences to play to, no pundits to persuade.  It is a conversation, like the one you might have at the corner cafe, only longer and without incessant interruptions.  It's a conversation where you meet the person behind the politician, the candidate behind the campaign.  Hosting it is Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich.  She knows the candidates, she knows Iowa and is the perfect person to find out on Iowans' behalf what we haven't heard before.  We've invited candidates Bachmann, Gingrich, Paul, Perry, Romney and Santorum.  Governor Perry joins Kathie now.

Obradovich: Governor Perry, thank you so much for being here today.

Perry: Hi Kathie, thank you.

Obradovich: You know, you have said that you were reluctant to run for president and actually that it was your wife Anita who kind of persuaded you, gave you a little nudge to go for it.  Are you still speaking to her?

Perry: It was more than just a little nudge, it was really a heartfelt conversation and I was reluctant.  I've got a great job as the Governor of the state of Texas, it was not my purpose in life to be president but my wife is a nurse and her father is an old country doctor and it was her very concern about what is happening on the healthcare front, it is the huge debt that our children, 28 and 25 years old, are about to inherit if we don't deal with this that really drove her to be passionate about sitting down and saying, listen, I know you love your job and you're good at it but our country is in trouble and you need to do your duty.

Obradovich: But it hasn't been all wine and roses for you on the campaign trail.  In fact, you've never lost a campaign and correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think you've ever been behind before, right?

Perry: Oh yeah, as a matter of fact, this last election for Governor I think I was 25 points behind in the polling at one period of time but subsequently we won rather handedly.  But life is not supposed to be easy.  As someone said, if you're not getting beat up every now and then you're not playing at a high enough level.  So, the idea that I 'm guaranteed to win or what have you -- I love my country, I think I've got some ideas about the economy, how to get this country back working again.  It certainly worked in Texas which is the thirteenth largest economy in the world and that is, as we do our bus tour across Iowa and hit 42 or 43 different cities and communities over the next ten to fourteen days that's what we're going to talk about and that is what I think Americans are looking for in particular is someone who has got a set of principles, got a set of values, who has been consistent in their life and if nothing else I have been consistent about those values and particularly about creating jobs in Texas over the last decade.

Obradovich: One of the things that voters are seeing a lot of is debates, there's been a lot of them.  I've been wanting to know, why didn't you take that $10,000 bet from Mitt Romney?

Perry: For a couple of reasons, I don't have $10,000 to bet and I was a little shocked, frankly.  And the other side of it is I'm not a betting man.  That is not my, that is not how I operate.  I do think it was a very clarion moment during the debate.

Obradovich: Why?

Perry: Well, number one, I'm right on the issue and he did write no apologies in hard back and said that he thought that the individual mandate was a model for America, it's in the first printing of his book and then in the paperback he takes it out.  So, I'm right on that issue regardless of what he says.  And I thought it a bit over the top to make a bet of $10,000 as I'm driving over here today and I'm passing all these houses and I'm going, you know, I bet there's nobody's house that we pass by that wasn't a little bit taken aback when he says, I'll bet you $10,000 and I'm kind of like holy mackerel, that's just a lot of money for most people and I guess not for Mitt.

Obradovich: You struggled in the early debates even though you've had some good ones recently.  Do you regret at all not getting out to Iowa earlier and getting your feet wet with a lot more questions from Iowans before you had to answer those kind of questions on national television?

Perry: Looking back and trying woulda, coulda, shoulda is an interesting question to ask but the facts are the facts.  I mean, I didn't even make the decision to run until very late June and I had surgery on my back the first of July and ...

Obradovich: How is your back?  Are you doing good?

Perry: My back is great, I'm back running again for the last six weeks so I think part of the reason you've seen a somewhat different candidate on the debates is that my health is, really both physically and mentally, just really back in the game from the standpoint you have a fusion on your back and it takes you a while to get back on your game.

Obradovich: So, were you not feeling good in those early debates?

Perry: I would suggest to you I was pretty fatigued.  But no excuses, it was there, it's what it is and, look, if anybody's looking for a perfect candidate I'm not it.  If they're looking for the perfect debater, if they're looking for someone that is going to have the answer to every question and never make a mistake I'm not their candidate.  But if they're looking for somebody that knows how to run this big government and particularly substantially downsize it, get a balanced budget, get people back to work, lay out a clear plan, cut their taxes and make Washington, D.C. as inconsequential in their lives as we can then I am their guy.

Obradovich: You went on a round of the late night talk shows after that first kind of debate snafu and really poked fun at yourself.  Does that come naturally to you?

Perry: Oh yeah.

Obradovich: It does?

Perry: I made fun of myself at a couple of church services this morning.  It is what it is.  Again, anybody that stands up for public service is going to have some things happen to them and the media is going to report what they report and, again, I'm not perfect and I forget things, I misstate some things but I think Americans are looking for somebody that will admit when they're wrong, admit when they make a mistake and don't even mind poking some fun at themselves.  So, yeah, it comes pretty natural for me to go, yeah, I stepped in it and press on and stay focused on the work at hand.

Obradovich: What are you doing to make sure that you are ready to debate Barack Obama and beat him in general election debates?

Perry: Well, it's going to be a stark comparison.  President Obama truly believes that government does have most of the answers.  He is a John Maynard Keynes economic believer that if you'll just put enough government money into the economy that it will create jobs.  He believes that Washington has all the answers.  He thinks Washington should make the decisions between you and your physician when it comes to healthcare.  He believes that everybody should pay for government mandates health insurance.  He believes that, again, one-size-fits-all mandated out of Washington, D.C.  I am in stark contrast to that.  I'm a big believer in the 10th amendment, that the states ought to be laboratories of innovation, that government shouldn't be mandating from Washington, D.C. whether it is education or healthcare, environmental laws, that the states -- I trust Terry Branstad and the Iowa legislature to decide how the children of Iowa should be educated substantially more than some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C..

Obradovich: Let's talk about that for a second because you've been running an ad here in Iowa that suggests that it is wrong for gays to be able to serve openly in the military while kids can't pray openly in school.  What are you trying to say with that ad?

Perry: Well, there are two issues here.  I very much disagree with the President from the standpoint of changing the don't ask, don't tell policy.  I'm a former military pilot.  I'm the commander in chief of twenty plus thousand young men and women and our Guard that have been deployed multiple times.  I understand that pushing this political agenda upon the military was not necessarily good public policy.  It may have been fine to reach out to his base but I don't think it's good public policy.

Obradovich: Do you think the military is suffering for that?  They're out in the field, they're in hostile conditions right now.  With this policy in place I haven't heard that it is causing problems.

Perry: Well, and I don't think this was discussed enough with the actual individuals in the military and, again, I talk to a lot of folks who are in the military.  I have very, very good contacts both with the civilian world, the DOD and of the military world and no one that I was talking to thought this was good public policy.  Listen, I get politics, I understand the chain of command and the message was clearly sent that the President wants this and there were people saluting but I'm thinking in their heart of hearts they're saying, we're going to follow the President's lead here and we're going to follow the Congress' lead but this is not good public policy.

Obradovich: How does that relate ... I'll let you finish ... I was going to say how does it relate to prayer in schools?  But you finish your thought.

Perry: That's exactly where I was going. 

Obradovich: Okay, great.

Perry: I was going to go there.  Onto the second part of your question about prayer in school is that this is, again, why is Washington, why is nine unelected, unaccountable judges deciding where and how and when a child in Iowa can pray?  I happen to believe and would support a constitutional amendment that allows for prayer in school.  I do believe the 1962, the Supreme Court made an error in saying that our children can't pray in school.  Our founding fathers said we had freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. So, again, just some very stark differences between myself and President Obama.  He and those on the left that are very strong supporters of his, we just basically disagree on the values of which gays in the military can openly serve but our kids can't celebrate Christmas or pray when they want to, how they want to, where they want to.

Obradovich: But we were talking about jobs earlier and you started this campaign with a really strong focus on the economy and jobs.  Why the focus now on religious values?

Perry: Well, I'm still talking about jobs.  As a matter of fact, I happen to think that having an economy that allows for people to have the dignity to have a job is a value.  It is a biblical value, frankly, being able to take care of your family, not having to rely upon government.  So, we're continuing to talk about jobs.

Obradovich: But you made a choice to focus on your religious values in a TV ad, though.  That is a specific message that you're sending out to somebody.  Who are you trying to reach?

Perry: Well, we have a lot of different messages.  So, this happens to be one that you have picked up on and want to talk about which is great and good but I also have ads that are running and have run and will run and I've got a 42, 43 city bus tour and we're going to be talking about a lot of issues, jobs.  It's hard to talk about Rick Perry and not think about and know about jobs.  The Governor who has created, it was me and our legislature helping create an environment where the entrepreneur knew that they could risk their capital and have a return on their investment.  We created more jobs than any other state in the nation.  As a matter of fact, since September of '09, 40% of all the jobs created in America were created in my home state.  That is what people are looking for, that executive governing experience of creating jobs and I've got it.

Obradovich: One of the experiences that you've had as Governor of Texas is a lot of experience with immigration.  In fact, more I would say than any other candidate in the race.  What is it that most Americans don't understand about the immigration issue?

Perry: Well, most people don't understand the vastness of the border.  1200 miles from Brownsville to El Paso and then another 800 plus miles onto the Pacific.  It is a huge and a long and a very treacherous from a terrain standpoint border.  And how you secure the border and the difficulty from the standpoint of being able to interdict the criminal element in particular whether it is weapons or whether it is drugs or whether it is people that are illegally being transported into this country it is a big task.  We don't have anywhere near enough boots on the ground, law enforcement, military, etc.  I know how to secure the border.  I've been dealing with it, as you said, for eleven years as the Governor of Texas.  But we can't do it alone.  It is not the state's responsibility.  That truly is a constitutional responsibility of the federal government and we haven't had a federal government, as a matter of fact, the President was in El Paso earlier this year making a statement that the border was safer than it had ever been.  I've got Texas Rangers and National Guard troops that I have deployed to the border who have been shot at.  Thank God none of them have been killed.  But it's a war in places and the President is either naive or does not care to secure the border.  When I'm the President of the United States, I have made this statement, that within twelve months of my swearing in that border will be secure and it will be shut down.

Obradovich: Well, beyond securing the border is Newt Gingrich right to say it is unrealistic and inhumane to say that the U.S. is going to root out and deport a good share of the 11 million illegal immigrants who are already living in places like Texas right now?

Perry: Now, here's what I said last debate was that if we will take the laws that we have and fully comply with them, you secure the border first.  Again, I can not stress how important it is to have all of the resources that we need, the boots on the ground, the aviation assets in the air, the Predator drones that look down full-time, 24/7 and give that information real-time to those fast response teams and you shut that border down.  At that particular point in time you enforce all of the laws around the books.  And there will be a multitude, I mean, a huge number of individuals who are in this country illegally that will leave because they know that America is serious about illegal immigration.  At that point in time we'll see how many people are still left here illegally.  But for the President of the United States to implement policies like we have now of catch and release, if it's not a violent criminal, they are illegally here, they are stopped for some violation but it's not a violent crime they are released into the population.  Americans, I mean, Americans don't understand that.  And that is the mentality that we have with Homeland Security, with this administration that has to stop.

Obradovich: Anything that even sounds like amnesty gets smacked down pretty hard.

Perry: As well it should.

Obradovich: Well, is your party hurting itself in the long-term though by alienating potentially Hispanic voters?

Perry: Not at all.  I mean, I have talked about this issue for a long time.  I get, you know, anywhere in the low 40s to the mid 40s from the standpoint of the Hispanic vote in Texas.  The Hispanic voter wants to hear about how are you going to take care of the economy so that I can take care of my family.  They are law abiding individuals, they believe in the rule of law, they don't want to see their communities unsafe because of the drugs that come in because of the cartels and the terrorists.  They want to see that border secure.  So, I don't think there is any space between the republican position of securing that border and the Hispanic voter.  As a matter of fact, I think we'll do quite well with the Hispanic voter because we're going to talk about jobs and how to keep this economy going and they're looking around and seeing this President who they voted for because he talked about helping change and they were like, you know what, we're ready for some change and we hope that this is what we're hoping for.  And now they have found out with 13 plus million people out of work, 45 million people on food stamps and $15 trillion worth of national debt that they're not going to support this President because they don't trust that he can get the economy going.

Obradovich: Let's talk about your experience in Texas and in particular about saving money.  You've had quite a history of privatizing government functions in Texas, you experimented with that a lot more than maybe some other states.  What is it that the federal government is doing now that you think would be done more efficiently and with less cost by the private sector?

Perry: Well, the biggest one is healthcare and Medicaid which is substantially expanded by the federal government that what it was perceived for.  It was supposed to be a program for the poorest of the poor and now it has been expanded substantially.  But they tell you how to deliver it and we have asked and have received some letters but Medicaid, again, I'm going to go back and say I trust Terry Branstad and the legislature in Iowa to come up with the innovative ways to deliver healthcare to make it more effective, more efficient, cover more people and save money.  That is one of the biggest issues.  I mean, I don't know why we even have a Department of Education.  Send a substantial amount of money to Washington, D.C., they skim off some amount for administration, I think it's $1 billion plus at the Department of Education, they go pick winners and losers throughout the state.  We don’t' need that.  Let the states be the epicenter for the decisions relative to how you educate your children in your state.

Obradovich: You're talking about state's rights here but what about private companies?  Do you think that states should give private companies an opportunity to educate kids, for example?

Perry: I believe in competition, I believe in bringing in schools like Phoenix to compete with our public universities.  Competition works and if you have a monopoly whether it is a monopoly on business or whether it is a monopoly on our kids you're probably not going to deliver as good a service as competitively priced as if you have competition.  So, I absolutely -- do you have a set of rules?  Do you oversee?  Do you make sure nobody is playing outside the parameters of fair play and the regulations that you have?  Sure.  But I truly believe that the private sector should be allowed to compete with -- look at FedEx and the Post Office.  Great example.

Obradovich: You wanted to privatize over 4000 miles of roads in Texas and have the private sector be a lot more involved.  But there was some concerns about do you let companies make money from tolls from roads that the taxpayers built with their tax money?  How do you take that idea into a fellow issue where you've got crumbling infrastructure and you need to find some ways to help pay for that?

Perry: Right.  Well, let me correct one thing that you said.  There was no taxpayer funded highways that these companies would have taken over. 

Obradovich: That wasn't part of the original proposal?

Perry: No.  The way that this was laid out was that these were going to be new roads and if are adding to a new lane it could be a tolled road.  I'm a big believe that our transportation infrastructure is crumbling and unless you raise the gas tax or unless you bond long-term which, again, the taxpayers are going to pay for or you use tolls which are a user fee, if you will, unless you believe in the asphalt fairy that is the only way that these roads are going to be done.

Obradovich: We have a lot of infrastructure in the United States that is crumbling.  How do you pay to fix that?  You're not for President Obama's plan apparently to fund infrastructure, right?

Perry: No, I'm not.  I believe that you allow these states to have the decision making, as much of it as you can in those states.

Obradovich: Even if it is federal tax money ...

Perry: Why are we sending all this money to Washington, D.C.?  That is one of the questions that I have got.  Obviously the system that we have in place today is not working.  If it was working we'd have people, we wouldn't have 13 plus million people out of work.  We wouldn't have $15 trillion worth of debt.  The stimulus didn't work.  Shovel ready jobs, even the President admitted that was a failure.  So, how are we going to change it?  What is the alternative?  I happen to think one of the alternatives is you've got to get Americans working, open up the federal lands and waters for energy exploration.  Pull back all these regulations that are job killers that we see out of the EPA.  I totally trust the Environmental Protection Agency here ...

Obradovich: We're getting close to time running out.  There are a couple of things I want to ask you about.  Governors usually face questions about their foreign policy experience and I know that you did quite a bit of travel while you were in the service.  I'd like you to give me a little bit of an example of a personal experience you had with a foreign culture.

Perry: Well, I've been to Israel a number of times.  As a matter of fact, in '09 the last trip, I've taken multiple trips and they are always economic development because Israel is a substantial trading partner with the state of Texas, but I wanted people to see how the individuals are having to live who are right over next to the Gaza Strip within rocket range and ...

Obradovich: Did you get a chance to talk to the people who are living there?  Did you form relationships?

Perry: Absolutely.  We talked to the police officers, yes.  There are people that I still have -- Benjamin Netanyahu is a friend.  I have known him for better than 15 years, the former defense minister of Israel.  Mike Levin's brother Joseph who lives and I've been to his house and had dinner.  When I go into Iraq or Afghanistan with a former general in Iraq whose son we helped get to school in Texas.  Those are relationships from travels that I have taken as the Governor of the state of Texas in these cases.

Obradovich: What kinds of things keep you awake at night?

Perry: You know, it's always the unknown.  It is the category five, actually the category four storm that you're afraid is going to be the category five storm that comes up the Houston ship channel and you're going to get that call at five o'clock in the morning, which I did and by the grace of God it moved on and didn't come up the Houston ship channel but a category five up the Houston ship channel there's a million people, without immediate evacuation there's a million people dead, not put out, not flooded out, dead. 

Obradovich: Does that happen to you often that you wake up in the middle of the night with a worry like that?

Perry: I mean, you asked me something that would wake me up in the middle of the night and that one did.  It wasn't because I was worried about it, it was because I got the phone call and we prepare, we're ready for contingencies but some you’re not ready for.  When I got the phone call from Governor Blanco after Katrina, can you take 25,000 people ...

Obradovich: We need to end here but I have to ask you this one last question.  If you're the GOP nominee will you insist that the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary continue to start the nomination process?

Perry: I think that is pretty settled.  If somebody is going to step ahead of Iowa they better bring their lunch.

Obradovich: Governor, thank you so much for being here, really appreciate it.  Good luck to you.

Perry: Thank you.

A reminder that you can see this conversation and all the others online at desmoinesregister.com and iptv.org.  And on the air you can follow in depth coverage of the caucus campaign and the politics of the day every day on the PBS Newshour and every week on Iowa Press on Iowa Public Television.  For Kathie Obradovich, I'm Dan Miller.  Thank you for joining us.


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