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Perry's Texas miracle is a mirage

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., Special to CNN
  • Ruben Navarrette: GOP says a president can't fix economy, then praises Perry for Texas success
  • He says Perry, a nice guy and good politician, did preside over economic gains in Texas
  • But he says those gains don't show that many new Texas jobs filled by out-of-staters
  • Navarrette: Unemployment high in Texas, as is deficit. Is that part of "Texas miracle?"

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN.COM contributor, a nationally syndicated columnist and an NPR commentator.

San Diego (CNN) -- When it comes to jobs, the hypocrisy of Republicans is working overtime.

They don't think Barack Obama deserves any credit for creating even a sliver of new jobs, arguing that it's the private sector, not the president, who has power of the nation's economy.

But boy, are they giddy over Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who they say deserves all the credit in the world for singlehandedly creating new jobs in the Lone Star State. So, we are told, presidents don't create jobs but governors do -- especially if they're in your party and thinking about running for president.

Take it from someone who lived in Texas for five years and covered Perry as a columnist for The Dallas Morning News. There is more to this Texas jobs story than meets the eye.

First, I should say that despite my better judgment, I like Rick Perry. I disagree with some of his politics, and I think a lot of what he says and does is just political theater designed to sell his favorite product: Rick Perry.

Yet, he is intensely likeable -- at least, one on one. On stage, in a debate, it's a different story. He becomes snarky, and his social skills go out the window. And suddenly, it's easy to dislike the man.

2010: Getting to know Gov. Rick Perry

Up close, his secret weapon is that quality that Bill Clinton possessed -- the ability to lock in on someone and make him feel as if he is the only person in the room. It's one of the reasons that I'd like to see Perry run for president.

He's the kind of candidate to whom everyday Americans can relate. He has an abundance of political skills, which explains why this career politician has never lost an election. He is affable, charming and a great campaigner.

But none of that seems to matter much to his Republican supporters around the country. For them, Perry's major selling points are jobs, jobs and more jobs. Many of those who are pushing Perry to enter the presidential race are fiscal conservatives who think his No. 1 asset is that Texas has been on a rampage for the past 10 years creating jobs and luring companies away from states such as New York and California.

The jobs are real enough. The Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas recently estimated that, since June 2009, Texas has produced about 37% of the new jobs in the country. Perry claims the figure is closer to 48%. Either way, it's impressive.

It is no wonder that, according to data recently released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Texas has now become the second-largest economy in the United States. It displaced New York, and it seems to be closing in on California. Texas now represents 8.3% of the entire U.S. economy.

For this, Republicans waste no time crediting their Holy Grail of lower taxes and less government regulation. Texas has both of those. There is no personal state income tax, and the sales tax -- 6.25% -- is lower than it is in many states.

If they were honest, Republicans would also credit immigration in the boom. Texas has a lot of that, too. An influx of immigrants -- both skilled and unskilled --allows companies to fill jobs Americans won't do. Then those companies hand out paychecks and pay taxes, all of which stimulates the economy.

But, as long we're being honest, we ought to acknowledge that there is another, not often talked about, dimension to the Texas Economic Miracle.

Or is it a mirage? Texas is a still a largely poor state, with weak infrastructure and a largely uneducated work force. Under Perry, the state budget deficit has surged to more than $25 billion, and the unemployment rate is higher than it has been in decades: about 8%.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, recently gave me a primer on "Tex-onomics."

"That jobs thing is a sleight of hand," Castro said. "More than half of those new jobs have been filed by non-Texans. So it's people moving here to take those jobs. It underscores this bipolar state that we live in. You have a population in Texas that is generally lower educated, poor, isn't covered by health insurance ... all of these things ... so you can recruit these companies to come here from out of state but your own people, often times, aren't qualified to fill these jobs."

The way that Castro sees it, this is all about long-term investment and conflicting priorities.

"We're not creating a system that educates them well and prepares them," he said. "We underinvest in these things, which is what Perry is doing in public education and higher education. We can create the jobs, and that's great. But our own people who have gone through Texas schools and Texas universities aren't the ones filling them."

Is this the record that Republicans think is Rick Perry's strong suit? Does Perry really want to do for the rest of the country what he's done for Texas? And, if so, can the country afford it?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

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