From an editorial in The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday, Dec. 14:
There are many ways to look at President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to name Rick Perry as energy secretary, a pick that is promising but also potentially perilous.
Let’s start with the obvious: After 14 years as Texas governor, a time during which he transformed a traditionally weak office into the perch with more power than any other in the Lone Star State, Perry is a serious leader more than capable of adding heft and even wisdom to the new president’s Cabinet.
Perry’s strength was in accumulating power, and then using it to profoundly influence Texas’ agenda. That agenda included doubling down on Texas’ status as a low-tax, low-regulation state specially designed to create jobs.
For all his success on that score – Texas led the nation in job creation year after year during much of his tenure – Perry’s refusal to consider tax increases of any kind even as he pushed huge highway spending left urban drivers with ever-rising tolls bills and tens of billions of dollars of new public debt. Under his leadership, Texas was also a state where investment in public education, foster care for children and many other critical needs was woefully inadequate.
To Trump’s credit, his choice of Perry also shows that our new president-elect can forgive even the most pointed and personal attacks and has a thicker skin than he’s demonstrated previously. Perry was the earliest and harshest critic of Trump during the primary campaigns, relentlessly urging Republicans to reject his “barking carnival act” of a campaign.
That criticism was among Perry’s finest moments in a short-lived campaign, but it reflects well on Trump that he has looked past those disagreements and named Perry to his Cabinet.
On energy, Texas’ record under Perry is mixed.
Perry regarded federal environmental oversight as intrusive. As energy production soared, so did environmental concerns. Even now, state officials are terribly behind in facing up to the rising threat of earthquakes that have followed the explosion in fracking.
But technology developed in Texas suddenly put hard-to-reach reserves of oil and gas well within the grasp of energy companies, leading to a surge of domestic production that altered not just the global economy but geopolitics, too. Fracking also pushed the cost of natural gas so low it has greatly reduced America’s dependence on heavily polluting coal.
And Perry’s record has more to show for it than just unimpeded expansion of oil and gas. Texas has become a national leader in renewable energy, too – especially evident in its massive expansion of wind power. Someday, when scientists discover how to store and distribute excess wind power, that technology may just revolutionize the world.
But that leads us to our final concern. The Energy Department is a hub for deep-diving scientific research, and is responsible for designing and safeguarding our nation’s nuclear arsenal. Its current leader, Ernest Moniz, understands that well. He is a former MIT professor, with a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford. His predecessor, Steven Chu, was a Nobel-winning scientist when Obama appointed him in 2009.
Perry, by contrast, has a lackluster academic record that ended with a bachelor’s degree in ag studies. What signal has Trump sent by naming him as their successor?
Moreover, he’s tapped someone who, just four years ago vowed as a presidential candidate to shut down the very department he’s now going to lead.
That’s a mystery whose unraveling we anxiously await, even as we welcome the fact that Perry has found a way to put his often underrated skills to use on America’s behalf.