PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Texas Gov. Rick Perry returned to New Hampshire Friday for the first time since 2012, as he tries to rehab his political image after a failed presidential bid.
Speaking to a group of business leaders here, Perry tried to focus on substance, talking about issues like economic development and the border crisis, but his recent indictment on two felony charges was hard to ignore.
Asked about his indictment during a question-and-answer session with business leaders, Perry was a little unclear when explaining what felony charges were issued against him.
“I’ve been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” Perry said of the grand jury that indicted him.
A grand jury indicted Perry last week on two felony counts – abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public official – over a 2013 veto threat.
Perry went on to detail why he threatened to veto millions of dollars in funding for the state’s public integrity unit unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned after a 2013 DWI conviction.
“When I saw that, I made the decision if I’m going to be held responsible for making decisions about where Texas taxpayer money gets spent, I was not funding that agency,” Perry said. “And as long as that individual was there I did not feel comfortable, I think the general public did not feel comfortable.
“I think this is an attack on the constitutional authorities of a governor. I’m going to fight this with every fiber of my being,” Perry said of his indictment.
The Texas governor talked about the need to secure the border and how to combat ISIS, a group that threatens the United States as this New Hampshire community has seen firsthand after the brutal beheading of journalist James Foley, who was from the state.
“Unfortunately for this state, it has been brought right to this doorstep with the pictures of the young man who was from New Hampshire who was brutally, viciously, maliciously murdered, beheaded to send a message to Americans,” he said. “They have told us that they are coming and why should we not take them at their word.”
Perry’s trip to New Hampshire comes as he weighs another presidential bid. Perry did not fare well in New Hampshire last time around, coming in last place in the Republican primary.
“I don’t know whether I was a good fit or not. I didn’t stay here long enough. I didn’t spend the time. I didn’t have the preparatory time. I learned some really, really good humbling and frustrating lessons running for the presidency,” Perry told reporters.
“I just think you have to spend a lot of time in these states if you’re going to do it. It’s like a relationship before you get married. There are a few times I guess people meet and it just works right off the bat but generally there’s a courtship that goes on. There is a period of time that you need to spend with people. They need to know you and I need to do that, and I didn’t do that.”
Greg Whalen, a Republican from Portsmouth who supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 GOP primary, said he was impressed by the Texas governor and believes the indictment will have “no net effect at all” on Perry if he runs again in 2016.
Asked whether he thought New Hampshire voters would be able to forget Perry’s trouble in the last presidential campaign, Whalen said, “This is a new beginning and everyone deserves a second chance.”