For Perry, border policy seems like a 2006 replay

Posted Tuesday, Jul. 22, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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kennedy His glasses look very 2014.

But behind them, Gov. Rick Perry is all 2006.

That was the year when Perry vowed to “never wait for Washington” to seal the border, posed glaring across the Rio Grande for campaign ads and promised a multi-million-dollar “virtual border watch” security camera system.

The 29-camera system amounted to one camera every 41 miles. It stopped 26 illegal border-crossers.

Total cost: $153,800 per arrest.

And — oh, yes — it was an election year.

Throughout his 14-year career as governor, Perry has talked tough about cracking down on marauding drug gangs and violent criminals, then softened his tone after elections, praising immigrant workers and blasting plans to wall the Rio Grande.

This year, for the first time in 24 years, he’s not running statewide.

But two years after national media counted him out of presidential politics, he’s back in.

In one recent poll, he’s the third most liked potential 2016 Republican candidate behind Mike Huckabee and Sen. Rand Paul. In Iowa, he’s a contender and also has strong second-choice appeal to voters who prefer Paul or U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

And neither Huckabee nor Paul can campaign along a border.

The Rio Grande Valley has re-emerged as Perry’s favorite campaign prop, this time as the backdrop for a deployment of 1,000 Texas National Guard troops as surveillance agents, equipment operators, van drivers and interpreters for state law officers stepping up patrols in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Sector, approximately between Brownsville and Rio Grande City.

You can see why some Valley leaders might be skeptical.

“We are concerned that politics might be the primary consideration,” The Monitor of McAllen editorialized.

If anything, the Monitor wrote, Perry’s emphasis on crimefighting instead of temporary humanitarian aid for 57,000 unaccompanied foreign children may show how little we know about any threat.

Silly us. We all thought the problem was kids and teenagers walking into the country and into a 2008-era federal civil court system that legally protects them here for one to five years pending a hearing.

“If the federal government does not do its constitutional duty to secure the Southern border of the United States, the state of Texas will do it,” Perry said Sunday in Iowa.

That is almost exactly what he said about Congress in 2006 when President George W. Bush sent the Guard to the border.

Houston Democrat Chris Bell, a lawyer and former U.S. representative, lost that election to Perry by about 400,000 votes, the closest any Democrat has come in 20 years.

“He’s always used the border for whatever political gain might be out there,” Bell said by phone Tuesday.

“He had a ‘compassionate conservative’ stance for a while. That didn’t play well.”

Notably, Bell said, Perry is going with state troopers and the Guard instead of sending $10 million-plus to border sheriffs for equipment and overtime pay as he did in 2006.

That’s odd, since unlike the Guard, deputy sheriffs and constables actually can make arrests.

But adding law officers “doesn’t get him national attention,” Bell said.

“When you look at what they can do compared to what the Guard troops can’t do, there’s no comparison.”

But those local sheriffs and constables are mostly Democrats.

Perry is campaigning to national Republicans.

“I’ll say this about him,” Bell said.

“He always seems to find a way to resurrect himself.”

This seems like more of a rerun.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy

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