As Texas Gov. Rick Perry prepares to launch his bid for president, some of the early opposition hits haven't been coming from his other GOP opponents or even the Democratic National Committee.
One of the loudest opponents so far to the decade-long governor has been a congressman from his home state: Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas. The nine-term Austin lawmaker has appointed himself the Democrats’ lead attack dog against Perry’s incipient campaign, speaking at an anti-Perry event last weekend, when the governor was headlining a mega prayer rally in Houston and sending national reporters a press release this week denigrating Perry's record. Shortly after Perry declared his candidacy Saturday afternoon, Doggett issued a press release dismissing his state's governor with a Texanism.
"All hat and no cattle," wrote Doggett. "The Texas miracle that Gov. Rick Perry claims is a myth." Later in the day, when Perry heads to New Hampshire to make his first visit as a declared presidential candidate, Doggett is planning to join a local Democratic state representative on a press conference call to "discuss Gov. Perry's failed record for Texas families."
While it's no surprise that the two Texans find themselves on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Doggett’s energetic efforts to undercut Perry are coming at a time the congressman might be expected to be more focused on his own political fortunes: Texas’ proposed congressional redistricting map—signed by Perry but under court challenge—could leave Doggett fighting for his political life next year.
That didn’t stop Doggett from railing against “the Rick Perry legacy of crushed educational opportunities” last weekend before a crowd of about 100 outside the Texas Capitol in sweltering heat. “Far beyond the Red River, we must tell our countrymen,” Doggett added, “Rick Perry wants to do to America what he has done to Texas."
Though the two have been at political odds for years, Doggett told National Journal the bitter animosity can be traced to a recent squabble over federal education funding. After Perry used money from the federal stimulus that was supposed to have gone to education to replenish state funds, Doggett authored an amendment to another bill that would have required such money to go to state schools. The amendment didn't pass, but the feud was joined.
"I really think we have a responsibility as Texans who have seen up close what Rick Perry has done here in our state, to spread the word to others that might be considering him along with these candidates," said Doggett. "He's messed with Texas, and we think he shouldn't mess with America."
The Democrat says his rift with Perry is responsible for his now politically perilous position. In the last round of redistricting, Republicans, led by then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, tried to eliminate Doggett by splitting up his district. He beat the odds and won. Now, he's seen his district split five ways. Doggett has decided to seek reelection in a new 35th District that includes only part of his old Austin-based district and adds on parts of San Antonio. He has already drawn a strong Democratic primary opponent in state Rep. Joaquin Castro, a young and up-and-coming legislator who's also the twin brother of the San Antonio mayor Julian Castro.
Doggett said the governor “deserves significant credit” for the evisceration of his district. "And yes, I think it's directly related to my role in the education amendment,” he added. “It was retaliation in part for the fact that I wanted those dollars devoted to our schools."
Like many other Perry critics, Doggett contends the governor’s role in boosting the state's economy has been overestimated.
"The 'Texas Miracle' has really has been something that can't be replicated nationally," said Doggett. "It's based on booting jobs from one state to the other, mainly by competing on who can have the lowest taxes and therefore not be a high level of government service."
Expect more critiques of Perry like the one Doggett's campaign blasted out this week, the congressman says. He’s thinking about hitting the trail himself as a leading anti-Perry voice.
"I think that there will be some traveling to do as this moves along and there'll be an opportunity to speak out in Washington about it as well," said Doggett.
One reason he feels such intensity: Doggett believes Perry has a real shot at the nomination.
"I think he will be a definite force in the Republican primary. I think he appeals to the elements within the Republican Party that are likely to dominate the primaries," said Doggett. "I think the real question is of his ability to move beyond the hard right of the Republican primary and into a general election. But he is definitely not to be underestimated."