Had Mitt Romney Governed Texas His 'Jobs Record' Would Be Tops

If you want to know who'll best tackle unemployment, compare candidates' skill sets, not economic data from their pasts 

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Had Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, or Gary Johnson run Texas for the last 10 years, they'd likely have created just as many jobs as Rick Perry. This is partly because when Perry became governor, "taxes were already low, regulations were light, and test scores were on their way up," as Ross Douthat puts it. "He didn't create the zoning rules that keep Texas real estate affordable, or the strict lending requirements that minimized the state's housing bubble. Over all, the Texas model looks like something he inherited rather than a system he built."

But it's also because Romney, Huntsman, Cain, Paul and Johnson are all earnest advocates for business-friendly jurisdictions. It's one issue where the whole GOP field is in basic agreement with one another.

Had Rick Perry been governor of Massachusetts, his job creation record would look a lot different, even if he did his utmost to implement the same policies. The legislature would've thwarted him. Voters would've opposed him. The culture there is different. The economic climate is different. The natural resources are different. The population density and settlement patterns are different. It makes no sense to compare the Perry and Romney records on job creation.

How should voters whose top issue is jobs distinguish among candidates if their policy preferences are basically the same and the records they amassed in office can't be meaningfully compared? My advice would be to accept that politicians can't reliably impact the employment market. But if voters are determined to vote on jobs, why not stop focusing on what the candidates want to do, since it's so similar, and ponder how they would advance their jobs agendas.

Which candidate would most effectively build public support for legislation they backed? Who would most profitably negotiate with leaders of his or her own party? Who'd do best in a conference room with the leaders of the opposition party? Once a law was passed, whose bureaucracy would execute it most efficiently? Who'd mount the most effective defense to a court challenge?

They're tough questions, and answering them requires a much deeper look into a candidate's past.

But at least they're the right questions.

Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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