Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas returned to Missouri Friday sounding a lot like a potential candidate for president on the eve of a convention that will draw conservatives from all over the country.
Perry appeared in St. Charles to formally announce a national nonprofit organization that will promote low-tax policies such as those he has championed in Texas.
But in a small room at the St. Charles Embassy Suites Hotel, in front of reporters and television cameras, his pitch was as heavy on political rhetoric as on policy.
“For America to find its fiscal footing, we must look away from Washington … (and toward) middle America,” said Perry, in announcing Americans for Economic Freedom. “We will only restore our nation to economic renewal if change sweeps the Heartland.”
The group is being formed as a 501©(4) organization “to promote economic policies at the state level that promote job growth, business development and economic expansion,” according to a statement.
Specifically, it will publicize the policies of low-tax states, contrasting them with those of high-tax states and using paid media and other venues to promote the position that low-tax policies create jobs.
“We start that movement today from the midsection of America: Missouri,” Perry said. “This is a battleground state when it comes to electoral politics, but the real battle is for the health of our nation.”
Perry – who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for president last year – was scheduled to speak Saturday at the regional Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in St. Charles. He is among headliners at the event, which includes former senator and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist.
CPAC conventions have been used by Republican candidates to shore up conservative support and test the waters before elections.
Asked whether he intended to run for president again, Perry said: “I don’t have any idea. I'll make a decision in probably a year or so.”
Meanwhile, he said, he will travel the country to “push this debate.”
“There are 50 laboratories of innovation” in the differing tax policies of the 50 states, Perry said. He said the primary focus of the group would be to contrast and compare those policies to assess what works and what doesn’t.
“I think our country’s ready to have that conversation,” he said.
Perry stirred controversy in Missouri this summer by voicing radio ads that invited Missouri companies to move to Texas. He also helped lobby for the attempted override of a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, of an income tax cut.
Proponents of the tax cut, including Perry, said it would create jobs and spur the economy. Nixon argued it would hurt school funding and mostly benefit the rich. The state legislature failed to override Nixon’s veto earlier this month.
“We had a conversation in this state a month ago,” Perry said. He maintained that the tax cut “would have made Missouri a stronger economic state. The votes weren’t there. I understand that, but I didn’t agree.”
In that earlier debate over Missouri’s tax rates, Perry spoke primarily about how he was promoting low-tax policies in Texas. Friday’s comments, in contrast, were notably national in scope.
“This is an issue advocacy group. This is not about Texas per se,” Perry said. Instead, he said, it’s about highlighting how “red-state policies stack up against blue-state policies.”
“This is kind of taking the conversation to a different level,” he said.
As a 501©(4), the group’s donors aren’t required to be made public because the organization isn’t supposed to promote a specific political candidate or party.
Still, the political aspect is clear. The group’s CEO, Jeff Miller, is a government affairs consultant in Texas and former Republican fundraiser. He is also former California campaign chairman for Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign. The new group’s board includes former GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
The group’s website isusaEconFreedom.com
The CPAC convention will be a day of speeches, panels and politics at the St. Charles convention center. More information is available athttp://conservative.org/cpac/stlouis/