Commentary: Perry vs. O'Malley – Early Presidential Showdown?

Two longshots slug it out in Maryland

Political Commentary by Barry Rascovar for

Caricature of Rick Perry by artist DonkeyHotey via Flickr.
Caricature of Rick Perry by artist DonkeyHotey via Flickr.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is poaching in Maryland. He’s camouflaged his Wednesday visit as an economic development pitch — including a $500,000 TV and radio ad blitz – to get companies to move from Maryland to low-tax, pro-business Texas.

He’s not fooling anyone.

It’s all part of Perry’s nascent presidential campaign for 2016. His move-to-Texas gambit comes with plenty of media coverage and new fund-raising contacts. He’s done it in other states that just happen to have important primaries like California, New York, Illinois, Missouri and Connecticut, where Perry needs to connect with Republican voters well before the 2016 GOP primary heats up.

It’s a brash, aggressive move that underlines Perry’s macho reputation for sweeping aside political niceties.

Maryland ideal for Perry visit

Maryland is an ideal state for Perry to visit, which is ironic considering the state’s overwhelming Democratic tendencies.

By hammering hard in the ads at Maryland’s “job killer” tax increases and the state’s anti-business reputation, Perry sparked a sharp response from Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who shares Perry’s presidential ambitions.

“All hat and no cattle,” quipped the Maryland governor. (That’s a Western and Midwestern expression for folks who wear cowboy hats but have never worked a farm.)

You can expect lots of similar zingers from O’Malley this week and perhaps a mano a mano meeting with the Austin poacher. The Baltimore and Washington media will eat it up. That’s precisely what Perry wants.

The two governors are ideological poles apart on issues and philosophy. It’s O’Malley’s strident New Deal liberalism versus Perry’s strident right-of-Reagan conservatism.

Both pols want the combat

A war of words is the script both politicians desire. The more media coverage this visit generates, the more Perry and O’Malley grab much-needed visibility.

It’s true that Texas has a warm and cozy relationship with its business community. You don’t see Texas leaders bashing businesses. O’Malley, though, has resorted to angry denunciations of corporations to emphasize his dedication to working men and women. Any time O’Malley needs a scapegoat, he lobs a verbal grenade in the direction of Corporate America.

That’s why O’Malley will have a hard time disputing Perry’s statement that Maryland has a negative reputation with the business community. A CNBC survey this summer placed the Free State near the bottom when it comes to its business climate. (Texas ranked No. 2. Maryland was No. 40)

Caricature of Martin O’Malley by artist DonkeyHotey via Flickr.
Caricature of Martin O’Malley by artist DonkeyHotey via Flickr.

Advantage O’Malley

The fact that O’Malley’s hostile comments and actions drag down Maryland’s efforts to recruit new companies and jobs is of scant concern to the governor. State corporate leaders are not fond of the governor’s policies, but they have to cooperate. As Maryland governor, O’Malley holds all the high cards.

O’Malley is most vulnerable on the 40 times he’s raised taxes or fees while in office. Many of those increases socked it to the business community.

In sharp contrast, Texas has a sterling reputation for keeping corporate taxes low and companies happy.

Historically, the Lone Star State has limited government intrusions. The opposite is the case in Maryland.

Down With Washington!

While O’Malley yearns for a return to the days of FDR and LBJ when liberalism dominated Washington’s power centers, Perry expresses disdain for virtually everything related to the nation’s capital.

In his 2012 campaign book, “On Fire! Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” Perry calls Social Security unconstitutional, Medicare too expensive, banking laws unnecessary, consumer protection unneeded and federal education policy illegal.

He’s an unabashed Tea Party conservative who comes close to mouthing the words from that movie classic, “Network”: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Maryland: The ‘Tax and Fee State’

For O’Malley, his spat with Perry indicates what he’ll face as a national campaigner. His record on taxes is unprecedented in Maryland history.

It is true that many of those tax levies were needed to help state and local governments weather the Great Recession, but this subtle distinction is lost on a public that only reads headlines, not the fine print below.

And while Maryland’s governor can point to high-achieving schools, low-tuition state colleges and a “green” environmental record, his critics need only point to all those increased taxes and the frightening violence and murder rate in the state’s largest city.

Benefitting from Texas fracking boom

Perry’s situation is quite different.

He’s been governor of Texas for 13 years and that state’s economy is charging ahead, thanks in large measure to the oil and gas fracking boom.

He can brag about keeping taxes down and free enterprise free of government entanglements. He also can draw cheers from conservative crowds by denouncing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as un-American. (He skips over Texas’ abysmal record in helping the poor.)

By starting his presidential campaign early, Perry hopes to gain far more name recognition across the country than in 2012. He’ll be better organized this time, too.

Yet he’s still a longshot, as is O’Malley.

In that regard they are much alike – two ambitious governors nearing the end of their terms with nothing better to do than reach for the brass ring that might lead to a presidential showdown.

Barry RascovarRascovar has been reporting and commenting on Maryland and national politics and government since 1971, first for the Baltimore Sun, then the Gazette of Politics and Business and The Community Times. We are publishing his columns simultaneously with his own blog,

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