Jay Root at the Texas Tribune came out with a huge scoop this past week regarding the personal finances of Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Apparently, Perry has technically retired as a Texas state employee and has started receiving pension payments. This has garnered quite a bit of criticism for various reasons, including the fact that Rick Perry is still the Governor of Texas.
When I first read this story I wondered what the logic of this move would be, given that it would sooner or later become public knowledge and it isn’t the sort of story that would be helpful to a candidate in a Presidential election. Leaving aside whether or not it was legally proper or good estate planning, this doesn’t seem like something that someone running for President would do. Paul Burka at Texas Monthly has come up with an interesting and subtle point on this, however:
Ever since Perry announced for president, I have believed that the clock is ticking on his political career, and that the expiration of his term in January 2015 would be the crucial moment. Either he would have already decided to run again for a fourth full term, or he would have to go out into the world and find work. But double dipping enables him to extend his political career. He can stay in office and collect his pension and repeat the process indefinitely. Who is going to beat him? Certainly not a Democrat. He really could be governor for life.
I’m not sure I buy Burka’s predictions about how the next Texas gubernatorial election will work out. Personally, I believe the Democrats would have a better chance against Perry in 2014 than they have ever had. Two of Perry’s gubernatorial elections were in strong Republican wave election years and the other involved a four-candidate race. Perhaps more importantly, I also doubt he’d run unopposed in a Republican primary, particularly in the aftermath of the debacle of his Presidential campaign. A lot of Perry’s influence in Austin in recent years has come from the possibility of his being the GOP’s Presidential nominee in 2012 and/or the President in 2013. I don’t think either is likely to happen, so I think Burka’s thought that Rick Perry could be Governor for Life of Texas is a little overblown.
But Burka comes up with a great point in his article. By taking early retirement, Perry has improved his personal financial position and placed himself in a better position if he wants to continue his political career or if he wants to position himself in the national conservative talking head / political speaker dinner circuit. (I know Burka didn’t mention that circuit in his piece but that is another option on the table.) It’s my understanding that the latter option isn’t that lucrative unless one is in the upper reaches of that circuit and I don’t think Perry is likely to be in those upper reaches after this campaign, so taking an early pension helps him on that front.
This move provides a financial cushion for Perry that makes it less necessary for him to scramble for a lucrative (and possibly demanding) private sector position in the near future. I’ll leave it to others to comment about the optics of Perry’s decision to start drawing a pension, but it is a move that could give him more space to operate in the near future.