HOUSTON — Texas Gov. Rick Perry might seem like the ideal tea party presidential candidate, but he hasn’t been winning over activists at home — and it’s not just because he’s competing with Rep. Ron Paul, a fellow Texas Republican, for their affection.
“A lot of what he’s done doesn’t measure up to his rhetoric,” said Don Zimmerman, a tea party activist and member of the Texas State Republican Executive Committee.
Although Perry has railed against the federal stimulus, made billions in state budget cuts and threatened secession at an anti-tax rally he hosted, his tea party critics are disappointed with his performance as governor over the past 11 years. They accuse him of flip-flopping on issues such as immigration and federal stimulus funds, and cite his ties to big corporate donors and the inside circles of the Texas Republican Party.
“Both party establishments are growing government, and Rick Perry is just kind of a poster boy for that,” said Debra Medina, a tea party leader who challenged Perry during the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary. In the race against Perry and another popular Texas politician, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Medina won 19 percent of the vote despite widespread criticism for her questioning of whether the government played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Like many of Perry’s tea party critics, Medina and Zimmerman favor Paul, the other Texan vying for the GOP presidential nomination. Paul’s supporters in Texas say the Congressman is the true tea party candidate. “I think the heart and the soul of the tea party is with Ron Paul,” Zimmerman said.
But Perry’s critics go beyond just Paul supporters. Apostle Claver, whose Raging Elephants website advises Republican candidates on how to court minorities, published a blog post Monday steering conservatives away from Perry.
“He has learned how to counter his true beliefs for the purpose of disguise in order to gain promotion,” Claver wrote, accusing the governor of failure on two key tea party issues: immigration and budget matters.
Though he favors strong border security, Perry signed the Texas DREAM Act in 2001 to allow some illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition for higher education. And even though he criticized the federal stimulus laws, Perry used that money to balance his state’s budget.
“Before you plaster a Perry bumper sticker on your pickup because you think he’s genuinely ‘Tea Party’ and strong on the 10th Amendment, understand that the Texas tea parties are divided on him,” Claver wrote in his post.
Perry hasn’t been shy about confronting his critics. When asked by Fox News why some Texas tea party groups oppose him, Perry responded, “A prophet is generally not loved in their hometown.”
Perry spokesman Mark Miner told Roll Call that for every tea party group that opposes Perry, there is one that supports him.
“While they may not agree on every issue every time, a vast majority have supported him,” Miner said, adding that tea party groups “share the governor’s philosophy.”
Part of Perry’s challenge in Texas is the length of his tenure as governor. That alone is a strike against him for many tea party activists who are distrustful of government.
“More and more, I think tea parties are just skeptical of anyone,” said Felicia Cravens, a board member of the Houston Tea Party Society.
Cravens credited Perry for supporting the tea party movement when it began two years ago. The governor hosted a rally at the state Capitol and has since attended numerous tea party events, including a recent one held by the Houston-based King Street Patriots. It is among the largest tea party groups in the state and has worked with the governor.
Cravens hasn’t decided whether she will back Perry in the Republican primary, but she said he has her vote against President Barack Obama.
Tea partyers were split on whether to support Perry in his gubernatorial re-election bid last year. But plenty of them backed him, propelling him to victory.
Melissa Clouthier, a conservative blogger who frequently speaks to tea party groups, said she upset many of those groups by endorsing Perry.
“I think he is competent, experienced and conservative. ... For a politician, he’s really great,” she said. “It’s one thing to campaign very ideologically. It’s another to get policy done.”
Although fellow Texans may criticize Perry, Clouthier said other tea party activists are likely to support his views on states’ rights and low taxes.
“I think the tea parties, they are practical, too,” she said. “They want somebody who can win, and they want somebody who can govern.”