AUSTIN, Texas – Republican Gov. Rick Perry has started a multitude of battles with Washington, D.C., over the years. Lately, Democrats in the nation's capital are showing they can return the fire.
In the past two weeks, President Barack Obama's administration overturned Texas' air permitting program for refineries and petrochemical plants, and U.S. House Democrats put controls on how the state can spend $800 million in federal education money.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, who pushed the spending restriction, said state lawmakers had perpetrated "a massive abuse of what was intended" with federal stimulus funds. And EPA regional director Al Armendariz called the permitting system "seriously flawed."
A defiant Perry called the moves obviously political and took the opportunity to jab right back.
"I'm worried, I'm concerned, any time someone is more interested in partisan politics than they are in what's in the best interest of our state," he told The Associated Press.
Texas' longest-serving governor has slapped at Washington over federal spending, border security, health care, national school standards and other issues. Over the past year, with the rise of the tea party movement and his bid for a third full term under way, Perry positioned himself as a champion of states' rights.
Democrats seem to be paying more attention to his anti-Washington rhetoric now that he has a legitimate Democratic opponent. They deride him for flirting with the notion of secession and for trying to use his differences with federal officials to score points in his race against Democrat Bill White — all while delighting in his newfound national attention.
Perry's "Washington-boogeyman narrative doesn't live up to the facts," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Ricardo Ramirez, noting that the governor accepted billions in federal stimulus money to balance Texas' budget in 2009 even while scolding Congress and the Obama administration over stimulus spending.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the subject.
Besides opposing the federal health care overhaul and proposed cap-and-trade climate legislation, Perry has criticized the federal government's legal challenges to state laws, including Arizona's immigration crackdown — though he disagrees with the major provision of that law.
He regularly complains about federal efforts on U.S.-Mexico border security. When Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called to see how Texas was faring before the landfall of Hurricane Alex, Perry needled her about border issues — then commented that she seemed "a little testy."
Those close to Perry say he's held his anti-Washington views for years, even when he was a Democrat and once took part in a farmers' union protest in the nation's capital. But his feud with the feds is accelerating.
"This fight has raised his profile," said Eric Bearse, a former Perry aide and GOP consultant.
Perry easily defeated U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican primary, largely by linking her to big spenders in Washington. So as the November election nears, his attacks on Washington will likely focus even more on White, a deputy energy secretary under former President Bill Clinton.
"I think it's all calibrated" by Perry's political team, said consultant and lobbyist Bill Miller, whose firm donates campaign money to Perry through its political committee. "They've clearly identified something that works for him."
White accuses Perry of talking about Washington so he can avoid his Texas record.
"Maybe he thinks that every he time he says the words President Obama and what he does you will forget what he did when he betrayed the farm bureau," White told the Texas Farm Bureau last week, referring to legislation the group favored that Perry killed.
Perry said that charge by White dumbfounds him, and he won't stop using his bully pulpit. He contends the Environmental Protection Agency decision was imposed by a "radical environmentalist" answering to the upper echelons of the Obama White House. And he called the spending restriction a cheap shot by Doggett, who "doesn't give a tinker's damn about Texas."
"The governor of the state of Texas better be pushing back on the federal government, this federal government, extremely hard because they are about to bankrupt not just this country but this state," Perry said.
Bearse said Perry's stance has made him "a political pinata" for liberals in national politics. Democrats in Washington don't appear to be backing off.
"He has no real relationship with the Texas Democratic (congressional) delegation other than to take the money we help secure for Texas and complain about it," Doggett said.