ARLINGTON — Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday climbed behind the wheel of a 2015 Cadillac Escalade like an eager but determined teenager.He shot forward before stopping abruptly, the torqued $91,000 SUV shimmying slightly as he hit the gas again, peeling rubber while the screeching tires raced less than 100 feet from the end of the General Motors assembly line.“That was scary,” plant spokeswoman Donna McLallan said afterward. “Maybe we won’t do that again,” she deadpanned. Perry was at the Arlington plant to ceremoniously launch GM’s 2015 SUVs, which have been produced here since January. The event also marked the facility’s 60 years of operation in Arlington.Plant manager Paul Graham saw only good in the gubernatorial hotdogging: “Obviously, he was excited. Great to see that enthusiasm.” Earlier, Graham offered to sell an Escalade to Perry, who said he’d rather pick up a new Chevrolet Suburban.Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who had a front-row seat, said he egged Perry on before the brief drive but doubted that the governor could hear him say to tear up the road.Plant officials said the raven-black Escalade that Perry “launched” is earmarked for export, but actually is headed for semi-tropical Naples, Fla., McLallan later emailed. Some 20 to 25 percent of the plant’s SUVs go abroad, the Middle East being its biggest export market. Those that head to the region inexplicably have untinted glass, and sometimes the air bags are deactivated in case the SUVs roll two or three times in the desert, plant officials said.Although the governor called unions a “tough sell in the state of Texas” in a Fox TV interview in February, he more warmly addressed United Auto Workers members in Arlington on Tuesday. He referred to “union brothers and sisters,” many of multiple generations, who have created drivable dreams for the American consumer for six decades. Perry gave shoutouts to four longtime assembly workers — Charley Hall, 81, a 57-year veteran and a team leader; Grand Prairie native Billy Bell, with 52 years under his belt; Ronald Holcomb, also with over 50 years’ experience; and Jimmy Baldwin, whose wife, brother and sister-in-law have worked at the plant where he and his son still punch in.The governor recalled the Chevy Impala that his father bought new in 1965 and his own first car, a used but eye-catching canary-yellow Pontiac “as long as a yacht” and also assembled by GM in Arlington. “Dreams are made in this plant,” said Perry, who left without taking questions from reporters. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, noted Toyota’s recent announcement that it’s moving its headquarters to Plano but insisted that Arlington got the better deal landing the GM plant in the 1950s. “This is an assembly plant, and we actually make things here,” he said.‘A backbone’Veasey said he is grateful that GM could celebrate the plant’s 60th anniversary after all the recent recall news. Himself the owner of a Buick Enclave SUV, which recently got a recall notice, Veasey called the Arlington facility world-class and “a backbone” of the regional economy. And it shows that Americans who work hard can go as far as they want, he said. But the congressman urged greater investment in education if Texas is to continue to compete for good jobs.
Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718 Twitter: @bshlachter