ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry visited Missouri Friday for the second time in a month, this time broadening his previous efforts to lure tax-averse Show-Me State businesses to his home state into what he hopes will be a national effort to promote "economic freedom" at the state level.
On the eve of a Saturday speech to GOP conservatives at a regional meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Republican governor and former presidential candidate returned to suburban St. Louis to promote the new nonprofit Americans for Economic Freedom, a tax-exempt group he said will focus on job creation by pushing low-tax state policies rather than a "Washington culture (that) is fundamentally broken."
He was joined by group CEO Jeff Miller, a former chief financial officer for the California Republican Party who recently relocated to the Texas capital of Austin, and board member Marc Rodriguez, chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a fellow Texan. The board of Americans for Economic Freedom will also include St. Louis beer baron August Busch III, economist Art Laffer and former House Speaker and former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.
But the spotlight was clearly on Perry, just as it was during his recent job-luring trips to California, Connecticut, New York, Maryland and Missouri - all states led by Democratic governors.
"This takes the conversation to a different level," Perry said. "It is not about Texas. This is a national conversation."
Perry visited Missouri last month, meeting privately with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce in Clayton and speaking at a political rally in Chesterfield, where he criticized Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon for vetoing tax-cut legislation. State lawmakers subsequently failed to override Nixon's veto. Perry also urged Missouri businesses to relocate to Texas in a series of statewide radio ads broadcast in late summer.
He didn't directly address questions about whether he planned to run for president in 2016 after an unsuccessful 2012 effort but also didn't rule out such a move, responding that his decision is likely at least one year away since he remains governor until January 2015. Perry has said he will not run for re-election in 2014.
Perry said the timing of Friday's announcement was one of convenience as much as intent, given his weekend appearance at the conservative political conference. He called his visits to other states a healthy exercise in economic survival, noting that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a fellow Republican, has sought to recruit Texas businesses.
"Competition is what drives us to be better, whether it's on the baseball field tonight or whether it's in the Capitol," Perry said, a reference to his Friday night plans to catch a St. Louis Cardinals game at Busch Stadium. "Competition will make you take a look at your policies."
Critics have slammed Perry's frequent forays outside of Texas. The advocacy group Good Jobs First recently issued a report denouncing the use of local government money on what it called Perry's "partisan job piracy" trips. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley called Perry's efforts there a "tired, old PR gimmick." Nixon dismissed Perry's earlier Missouri efforts as an attention-gathering stunt.
Americans for Economic Freedom, www.USAEconFreedom.com