The Texas Mirage: How Rick Perry's Rightward Shift Is Messing with Texas' Growth The Texas Mirage: How Rick Perry's Rightward Shift Is Messing with Texas' Growth
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The Texas Mirage: How Rick Perry's Rightward Shift Is Messing with Texas' Growth

by Mark Bergen

August 23, 2011

In the thick of a heated governor’s race last year, incumbent Rick Perry’s campaign staff wanted to boost their lead by going after opponent Bill White, the Democratic mayor of Houston. A top Perry consultant set out the campaign narrative in an email [sic throughout]: "In this political environment no competitive state will elect a big city trial lawyer, anti gun, sanctuary city promoting, Clinton protégé DC politician." Governor Goodhair, as Perry is sometimes dubbed, was taking on the city slicker.

A bubble did burst in Texas, but that was back in the 1980s, after the Savings and Loan crisis. Hoping to avoid another incident, the state instituted a set of very stringent financing regulations and consumer protection laws. With these in place, Texas cities, insulated from the housing crisis, could expand while others clawed out of the recession. Of course, this happened well before the gubernatorial tenure of candidate Perry, who recently pledged to vanquish all regulation as president.

Another thing that happened long before Perry arrived was the waves of immigration that fueled the incredible growth of Texas metros. Now that he’s in charge, Perry is doing his part to stymie this.

A decade ago, the governor signed the Texas DREAM Act, a bill that offers permanent residency to students born to undocumented immigrants. It marked a double victory for cities as it helped ensure steady population surges and an educated workforce. But as he's moved toward the national stage, Perry has shifted dramatically rightward on immigration. He’s reversed his previous positions and, this spring, drafted an emergency bill to end sanctuary cities, measures to protect undocumented immigrants in certain metro areas. Julian Castro, the Mayor of San Antonio, told the AP that the Perry bill and most recent Texas legislative session were "the most anti-Latino agenda we've seen in more than a generation, without shame."

Urban growth in Texas from new immigration has slowed recently, and much of the steady population incline comes simply from a high birth rate. Castro, the budget analyst, said the sanctuary city bill would not necessarily lead to a vast migration out of the state. But it may roll back enrollment in public schools if nervous immigrant parents begin pulling their kids out. If that were to happen, it would further increase teacher layoffs.

Between now and next November, campaign coverage of Perry’s immigration positions will focus on how they affect his political odds in a state and nation rapidly becoming more Latino. Yet the more pressing question is how the legacy of the recent Perry-style governing—the shirking on public spending and education, and hardened approach to immigration—will hit Texas cities and, perhaps, spread to others. We may find out that the Texas Miracle was a mirage all along.

photo via (cc) Flickr user Gage Skidmore

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The Texas Mirage: How Rick Perry's Rightward Shift Is Messing with Texas' Growth