By Jimmy Threatt
As the 2010 midterm elections approach, the fervor and excitement that dominated the 2008 election season is absent. This should come as no surprise because midterm elections typically attract less attention. However, states, like the federal government, increasingly face difficult and complex problems, making the 2010 gubernatorial elections particularly important. One such example is Texas, where some sources estimate that next year’s budget will have a deficit of up to $18 billion. The Texas gubernatorial election pits incumbent Rick Perry, a Republican, against the Democratic candidate, Bill White. Perry has held the office of governor since replacing George W. Bush in 2000, and he defeated popular senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson in the Republican primary. White, the former mayor of Houston, defeated a slew of challengers in the Democratic primary. According to polls, Perry has held a lead over White throughout the campaign, but not an advantage that is insurmountable. Unfortunately, the candidates have focused on portraying each other in a negative light throughout their campaigns, as Perry tries to link White to President Obama, who is unpopular in Texas, and White attempts to blame Texas’s problems on Perry’s actions as governor, resulting in campaigns that have been relatively short on substance.
The issue of healthcare has been very controversial throughout the country during Obama’s presidency, and Texas is no different. Perry promotes himself as a fiscal conservative, and Texas, under Perry’s leadership, is one of several states that has chosen to sue the federal government over the healthcare legislation Congress passed earlier this year. Perry not only opposes the Obama administration on the issue of healthcare, but he has consistently tried to use the unpopularity of President Obama, and the Democratic Party more broadly to damage White’s image. Perry has effectively put White in a difficult position because while it is likely White generally supports the views of the Obama administration on the issue of healthcare, it would be unwise of him to pledge such support for Obama in a state where the president only has a 34% approval rating. Therefore, White has merely stated that he supports expanding healthcare coverage to more Texans but has failed to give a specific plan on how he plans to accomplish such a goal. President Obama has become such an important figure in the election that when he visited Texas in August to raise money for the Democratic Party, Governor Perry greeted the president at the airport, but Bill White was not present to greet the president, a move likely intended to distance White from Obama. Thus, the national political scene has had a significant impact on Texas’s gubernatorial election as Perry’s opposition to Obama’s unpopular healthcare policies have simultaneously boosted his popularity and made it difficult for White to take a stance on the issue of healthcare. However, while Perry’s positions have yielded positive results for him politically, he has failed to offer any of his own solutions to Texas’s healthcare problems.
While healthcare has provided Perry a great opportunity to capitalize on Obama’s unpopularity, the sagging economy in Texas has provided White an equally valuable opportunity to damage his opponent. White, who is a former businessman, has constantly emphasized the economic problems Texas faces, implying they are a result of Perry’s policies. While Perry has undoubtedly contributed to Texas’s financial situation, it would be foolish to place all of the blame on his shoulders when virtually every state is suffering from the economic decline of 2008. In addition, White, like most people, does not have a solution for the daunting economic challenges that Texas faces. Similar to how White is a victim of Obama’s unpopularity, Perry is, to a certain extent, a victim of being governor while the country has experienced a severe economic decline.
Unfortunately, the 2010 Texas gubernatorial election has not been as substantive as one would hope because the candidates have focused on portraying each other in unflattering ways rather than debating the issues. Epitomizing the situation is that Rick Perry has refused to debate Bill White unless he reveals his tax returns from the mid-1990s. It seems that Perry will most likely win the election because of his steady advantage in the polls, his relative popularity, and the unpopularity of Obama in Texas. However, the outlook for the Democratic Party could be more promising in 2014 and beyond. If Rick Perry wins the 2010 election it is very likely that voters could grow tired of him by 2014, making him vulnerable to a Democratic challenger. In addition, the immigration issue is becoming increasingly more important and controversial, and the Republican Party’s stance on immigration could prove to be very harmful politically, especially as Texas’s Hispanic population continues to grow.