Rick Perry Is Just Fine with "Big Government" When It Gives Him the Power to Crack Down on Immigrants and Drugs
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Editor's note: for much more on the militarization of the border, check out Tom Barry's new book, Border Wars (MIT Press).
Rick Perry is “fed up” with the “big spenders” in Washington, whether Democrat and Republican. He advocates “limited government.” But the Texas governor is selective; he doesn’t want to downsize all big government.
For Perry, like most right-wing populists, big government is bad government when it regulates and redistributes. Yet when government enforces, when it secures, the more government the better.
When our tax revenues support the new security trinity -- border security, homeland security, and national security – Perry is a professed and proven advocate of big government.
Nor will you find Rick Perry criticizing big government when it involves funding cracking down on crime and drugs. In Texas, state government has expanded into new dimensions and grown new tentacles. In the name of border security, Perry has overseen the creation of an array of new fusion centers, intelligence centers, drug task forces, and criminal data exchanges in Texas.
In Washington, there isn’t a more pertinent example of big government expansion than the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, with its annual budget of $55 billion. During Perry’s tenure as governor, the DHS budgets for border control and immigration enforcement have more than doubled. There is no other Washington bureaucracy that has a greater presence in Texas.
In his campaign book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington , Perry does take aim at DHS, writing that “we are fed up with the Department of Homeland Security.” But not because of undue government meddling, waste of tax dollars, or infringement of states’ rights.
Instead, Perry is fed up with DHS because this huge government bureaucracy is not doing more and doesn’t have a greater presence in Texas. Despite the more than doubling of DHS border security operations in Texas since 2005, Perry complains that Washington’s financial commitment to border security in Texas is “puny.” He demands that President Obama commit “greater resources” to border security – without offering any advice about how to raise those additional resources.
When President Obama authorized federal payment for the deployment of 286 National Guard troops on the Texas border, Perry demanded a thousand troops. When President Obama announced last year that DHS would hire 1,000 more Border Patrol officers, Perry immediately countered, demanding at least 3,000 new patrol agents.
Border security – both Perry’s charges that the Obama administration is failing in its responsibility to secure the border and his claims that the governor’s office is taking the lead in protecting Texas – has had a central (and very successful) place in Perry’s two reelection campaigns since 2005. Whether in primary challenges or in the general election, with border sheriffs and Texas Rangers at his side, Perry has gained critical electoral support by convincing voters he is tougher on border security and illegal border crossings than his opponents. Perry also claims that Texas is tougher on border security than Washington, having mounted its own border security campaign – Operation Border Star – whose motto is: “Leave no exploitable seam.”
During Perry’s first several years as governor (after, as lieutenant governor, succeeding George W. Bush in 2001), border security was barely mentioned. However, as the anti-immigrant backlash mounted and as the calls for enforcement-first and border security-first intensified as part of the immigration reform debate, Governor Perry also jumped on the border security bandwagon.
Indicative of the emergence of border security as core theme of the Perry administration after 2005 was the changing focus of the state’s Homeland Security Office and its strategy statements. The attention of the governor’s homeland security office – which is funded entirely by Washington – was initially on foreign terrorism and the capacity of first responders. But as the national prominence of immigration and border issues increased, references to border security began to dominate the pronouncements of Perry’s homeland security office, whose mantra became: “There can be no homeland security without border security.”