Rick Perry walked up the stairs from the basement and stopped by the bar for a moment.
“They had a little Shiner problem here for a while,” the governor said as he approached a small gaggle of New York City press, referring to the famed Texas lager that was until recently, apparently, hard to spot outside the Lone Star State. “But I see they have taken care of it.”
Perry was at Hill Country, a Texas-themed eatery in Manhattan that features drinks in mason jars and a pit-smoked whole hog special, to sell New York businesses on the Texan way of doing things. It has been a full-frontal assault, with Perry appearing in television ads running around the state touting the Texas model of low taxes and less regulation.
“It is not just me that says the business environment is better,” he said, stretching his arms so that an embroidered “RP” was visible on his shirt cuff beneath a blue suit. “It is CEO magazine. It is a host of different publications and organizations that use a lot of different matrices.”
Since Perry’s famous “Oops” moment and his subsequent exit from the 2012 presidential campaign, he has sought to recast himself as something of a policy wonk for the conservative culture war, sporting high-end designer eyewear and downplaying his previous talk about Texas seceding from the union.
But in New York on Wednesday, the city’s reputation for sharp elbows seemed to be rubbing off on the governor, and he couldn’t help but needle his hosts.
He cited a tax study that showed New York was 48th out of 50 states in its tax burden, a move up two slots from the bottom spot.
“Making progress. Headed in the right direction. That is good,” he said, adding later: “Now, it’s small ball. But it is a move in the right direction.”
What about the fact that, well, some business owners would rather live on the Lower East Side than Laredo?
“I don’t argue the fact that New York has as vibrant a cultural arts scene as there is in the country,” he said. “I will give you that. California has beautiful weather, and Napa Valley is hard to compete with when it comes to wine. But the fact is, you can’t sustain your life just on Broadway. There are other things that are really more important, like being able to keep more of your money.”
New York, of course, has produced some ads of its own, ones that encourage tourism and tout the state’s business environment. Perry, in fact, had just seen one.
“You know, I was fascinated to see, as I was watching TV last night, you know the New York ads—which are really good, by the way—but why would you be showing them in New York City? I mean, just curious, why would you show that ad in New York City? Come to New York if you…” and he trailed off, as if any answer would be absurd.
Perry had come upstairs after a meeting with ambassadors from Texas and about 75 New York businesspeople considering a move. It was part of his TexasOne program, which, although irritating to his fellow governors, he said, had convinced business owners from around the country to try the Texas way. He declined to say who he was meeting with, for fear of causing a local dust-up—“As a general rule, until I get them in town, I don’t mention who they are”—but his aides said he was spending the weekend in meetings with several local businesses.
But that, of course, was not all he had come to the Big Apple to do. On Tuesday, he sat down for an interview with an influential upstate radio host, a New York Post columnist who is one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s most fearsome antagonists. Perry has been in regular contact with deep-pocketed Republican donors, and he filled his schedule with meetings and media, including CBS This Morning on Thursday and visits to National Review and The Wall Street Journal, two interviews on Fox News, and another with Sean Hannity.
It is all part of the relaunch of Perry’s image. To listen to him tell it, luring businesses across state lines is part of a great American tradition.
“It is time for this country to have a conversation about the competition between the states,” he said. “When we look at Washington and we see this absolutely stalemated, corrosive process up there, and you see the economy of this country somewhat dead in its tracks, or you know, certainly not as vibrant as you would like, then a good, thoughtful competition about states putting programs into place and competing against each other” is warranted.
And he is vulnerable to that competition, too, he said.
“Listen, [Louisiana Gov.] Bobby Jindal makes me nervous,” Perry said. “He is over there looking at tax policy and looking at regulatory policy. Rick Scott is over in Florida, and he is hustling business out of the state of Texas. I know that. They are good friends, and they are friendly competition, but that makes me sit down with my economic development folks, makes me sit down with legislators.”
Perry compared that competition to the NBA playoffs, and of course he couldn’t help but point out that Texas had three teams playing while New York had just one.
Downstairs, though, it was hard to measure how well Perry’s sell was sinking in. One businessman from Texas said he was using the occasion to meet with existing clients in New York. Another said Perry pitched the audience on economic liberty and freedom, which hit home: “Everybody fucking hates paying New York City taxes.” A third, who said he was in infrastructure technology, said the pitch was quite persuasive, and he was going to look into moving his company to the Lone Star State.
But was he really ready to leave New York?
He shook his head. “Oh, no. The company, maybe. I am not going anywhere.”