Q: I think many readers of the New York Times enjoyed your columns about Texas when Rick Perry was still running for President. But that’s over. So why did you feel compelled to go on and actually write a book?
A: As I was covering the Perry candidacy and even before, as I was sort of looking at the Tea Party rallies in Texas that happened early in the Obama administration, I was struck by how angry the tone was. And as I looked into it more and more, I thought ‘Wow, Texas has actually been dominating the national agenda for like the last 30 years, why is everybody so angry there?’ And then I decided to write a book about it.”
Q: So why is it Texas has such enormous influence on the rest of the country?
I think it’s in part because it’s so huge and it’s growing so fast. And it’s sense of politics is very intense. I sort of divided the country always between empty places and crowded places. And historically the voice of the empty places has been a voice about ‘No government, no government: We don’t need it because we’re out here by ourselves, we can take care of ourselves.’ And that’s very much the voice of Texas politics even though 80 percent of the people in Texas live in metropolitan areas, they’re not really in empty places but I think they feel that they are.
Q: And your book lists a number of “empty place” ideas that have flowed from Texas to the rest of the country, such as school privatization, charter schools, everything that Bush brought–
A: Yes, once they become federal policy then they’re definitely something that all of us care about. And if you look back over the last 30 years, the Savings and Loan crisis began when the federal government tried to copy Texas’ deregulation of their chartered Savings and Loans. Bank deregulation that we’ve so much of the effects of in recent years. Bank deregulation had ten billion fathers but I would say Senator Phil Gramm who was the head of the banking committee and a famous Texan is maybe the biggest thumb of all the many, many thumbs in that pie. No Child Left Behind the entire reorganization of the way the federal government deals with public schools, was based on George W. Bush’s experiences in Texas. And then you look at energy, you look at the environment, tax policy, it goes on and on and on. Texas has had a stupendous influence on the way the federal government operates today. And that’s why I find it so ironic that everybody in Texas seems so angry about the federal government.
Q: You spend some time in the book criticizing the so-called “Texas economic miracle” that Governor Perry likes to talk about. What don’t you like about it?
If it was only as Governor Perry seemed to suggest a matter of no regulation and very low taxes, Mississippi would be leading the world in economic development. The differences in Texas are it’s so big, it’s got the energy industry which has been a huge jumper-off-of for all the other things that have followed. It’s got the border with Mexico which has been fantastic for trade. It’s got huge amounts of federal money coming in through military bases in particular. So there’s been all these things. And right now Texas is developing a great economy except that it’s a very hard economy if you’re poor. You’ve got poor people who often get paid below the minimum wage, who have certainly no union protections. And there’s virtually no social services in many areas. So all that stuff together makes Texas a great state if you’re a middle class professional or a rich person but not so great if you’re not.
That’s The New York Times columnist Gail Collins, speaking with Carrie Feibel. She’ll be speaking tomorrow night at the Wortham Center. To find out more, go to progressiveforumhouston.org.