POLITICS

Perry undecided on GOP debate because of wildfires

Gov. Rick Perry holds a news conference to discuss wild fires in central Texas, Monday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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"It's always an advantage for a candidate to be acting rather than talking," said Frank Donatelli, chairman of GOPAC, an organization that trains Republicans to run for elective office. "If you take control of the situation and then don't deliver, that's a bad thing."

And Perry could open himself up to charges of hypocrisy.

He has said he will request federal disaster relief for this round of wildfires — although he bashes the federal government and Washington every chance he gets, even as flames envelop parts of his state. And while he was seeking federal money, he took a swipe at the Defense Department, suggesting that bureaucratic red tape was holding up bulldozers and other equipment from nearby Fort Hood that could be used to fight the fires around central Texas.

"It's more difficult than it should be to get those types of assets freed up by the federal government," Perry said. "When you've got people hurting, when you've got lives that are in danger in particular, I really don't care who the asset belongs to. If it's sitting in some yard somewhere and not helping be part of the solution, that's a problem."

Perry overlooked the fact that Fort Hood is battling its own wildfires. Tyler Broadway, a spokesman for the post, said bulldozers cutting firebreaks around the blaze were part of an effort that had fires there only 60 percent contained by Tuesday night.

Fires have blackened 3.5 million acres, an area roughly the size of Connecticut, across the state since December.

President Barack Obama rejected Texas' request in April for federal aid due to wildfires, but then declared 45 fire-ravaged counties a major disaster in July, after Perry wrote to the White House to appeal the previous decision. The Agriculture Department has also declared all of Texas a natural disaster area due to a relentless drought, making farmers eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

As fire raged back home on Sunday, Perry abruptly left a campaign trip to South Carolina to head to Bastrop, a quaint community about 25 miles from Austin where a wildfire that spanned more than 16 miles was raging out of control. When he arrived, Perry got an earful from evacuated residents who demanded to know why more state planes weren't being used to pour water on the flames.

"Where are the planes?" several gathered in the municipal building's lobby shouted.

Clearly taken aback, Perry mumbled, "The planes are flying."

"We don't seem them!" some in the crowd shot back.

But the heckling was short-lived. The same crowd applauded a few minutes later when Perry responded to a question about Wednesday's debate in Simi Valley, Calif., saying he was "not paying attention to politics right now."

Aides said Tuesday that he plans to debate. But Perry left open the possibility that he may skip it. Asked if he would have time to prepare even if he does attend, Perry said, "We'll deal with that when it comes up."

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