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Perry unveils new low-tax group, as conservatives rally

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Texas Gov. Rick Perry is back in Missouri touting his “Red State versus Blue State’’ campaign, only this time the focus isn’t Texas versus Missouri, but the birth of a new national group – Americans for Economic Freedom – aimed at spreading his no-income tax argument to all 50 states.

Perry joined two of the leaders of the new group – the chief executive Jeff Miller and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce chairman Marc Rodriguez – at a news conference Friday afternoon in St. Charles

The event was on the eve of a gathering at the St. Charles Convention Center of like-minded conservatives attending Saturday’s regional Conservative Political Action Conference, commonly known as CPAC.

Miller said that Americans for Economic Freedom plans to conduct issue-advocacy campaigns nationally and in the states. The aim is to promote the low-tax/low-spending philosophy that Perry contends is working in Texas and such allied “red states” as South Carolina and Louisiana. All are run by Republican governors.

Group to target states with Democratic governors

Some of the group’s activity may be in states with Democratic governors, such as California and Missouri, where Perry contends the high-tax policies are hurting the states’ economies.

(Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has countered with statistics showing that Missouri already is a low-tax state, and has many taxes – such as property and sales taxes – that are lower than those in Texas. Perry and his group note that Texas has no income tax, while Missouri does.)

Americans for Economic Freedom will differ from other such conservative groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, because its focus will be on the states, Miller said. The group’s chief theme is that “wealth is migrating to low-tax states.”

As a 501C4 nonprofit, Americans for Economic Freedom doesn’t have to identify its donors. But its founders include former Anheuser-Busch chief August A. Busch III, Miller said.

Perry’s message Friday was similar to what he said during his last stop here in August, in which he joined other groups in their unsuccessful effort to persuade the General Assembly to override Nixon’s veto of a tax-cut bill that the governor and his allies said was flawed.

Perry said he was disappointed that the override campaign lost, saying the tax-cut bill “would have made Missouri a stronger economic state.”

“We know we can’t spend our way to prosperity,” he said. “But we can grow our way there.”

Perry dismissed any speculation that his activism with the new group was tied to a possible bid for president in 2016; he lost his first try for the GOP nomination last year.

Some congressional speakers forced to cancel

Perry is among a number of marquee speakers during Saturday’s regional CPAC conference here, hosted by the American Conservative Union. The ACU’s executive director is Gregg Keller, originally from Missouri, who’s a former aide to former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo.

The event will bring in past and potentially future GOP presidential candidates as well as a host of lelected officials and conservative activists who hope to shape the party’s agenda.

Some of the congressional speakers, such as U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, are last-minute cancellations because the House is expected to spend the weekend dealing with its battle with the Senate over a spending bill – called a “continuing resolution” – needed to keep the federal government operating after Monday.

Keller said the St. Louis region was chosen for this weekend’s CPAC event because Missouri exemplifies the “heartland conservatism” important to advance the movement. Another factor is that many of the costs of the event are being underwritten by the Show-Me Institute, a local free-market think tank that is financed by some of the state’s biggest conservative donors, including financier Rex Sinquefield – who wants to do away with income taxes.

Keller said he expects Saturday’s gathering to “stoke up grassroots conservatives.”

He added, “It’s an opportunity to get our folks excited about the battles to come."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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