Gov. Rick Perry gave the Houston business community an update on Texas' economy Tuesday in a speech titled "State of the State," prompting his Democratic opponent to accuse him of using his government office for political gain.
Just 21 days before the Nov. 2 election, Perry and Democrat Bill White are campaigning around the vast state they want to run, using every opportunity to push their agenda, praise their achievements and slam one another. Perry is running for his third full term in office and faces the Democrats' most promising challenger in years.
Speaking to the Greater Houston Partnership at a luncheon on Tuesday, Perry repeated his mantra that Texas has weathered the recession better than any other state, brushing off the name of the speech - usually reserved for an official address to the state Legislature - as semantics.
"I'll let the name of the address stand on its own. What is the state of our state at this particular point in time and I think I laid that out in there," Perry said.
White, meanwhile, sent his campaign staff to the event to redistribute a list of questions they accuse Perry of avoiding, including what he will do about Texas' unemployment rate, which in August at 8.3 percent was lower than the nation's figure of 9.6 percent but higher than the state's has been in years. White said the unemployment rate is nearly double what it was when his Republican opponent took office a decade ago.
"He's using these groups as a political stage right before an election," White said of Perry.
"The Texas unemployment rate is higher than in neighboring state. Rick Perry wants to go around the state creating the illusion of prosperity."
Perry touted the record of the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund, created to lure jobs and high-tech companies to Texas. Perry said fund moneys were used to attract one of the premier cancer researchers to Houston and to lure others away from Tulane University.
But the fund has come under fire since the Dallas Morning News reported it doled out more than $16 million to high-tech startups whose investors are big donors to Perry. White repeated his allegation Tuesday that Perry has misused his authority when awarding grants from these funds and demanded an independent audit of the programs. He called on Perry to "remove himself from all decisions involving the Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund."
"False the first time he said it, false the third time, false the 100th time that Bill White would say that," Perry fired back. "The business men and women in this state understand that that Emerging Technology Fund has been a great success story and trying to connect dots that aren't there may make for interesting political theater but there's no there there. We're creating jobs, we're creating wealth, we're moving the state forward."
Root reported from Austin.