By Gilbert Garcia
"We're all on the same team today."
That's what Gov. Rick Perry said as he surveyed the crowd of students from local high schools gathered Thursday for the Generation Adelante/Generación Forward college fair at Brackenridge High School.
Perry could have just as easily been talking to the politicians in the room. After all, it's not every day that Perry, a staunchly conservative Republican, receives a warm introductory speech and a hug from state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte D-San Antonio, a liberal stalwart, and one of his sharpest legislative critics. But that's exactly what happened Thursday.
This rare example of election-year bipartisanship occurred at an event where more than 30 colleges and universities set up booths and provided students with information on admission and financial aid.
In addition to Van de Putte, Perry was joined by Eva Guzman, the first Latina justice on the Texas Supreme Court, and Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes. Perry appeared at a similar college fair in Corpus Christi on Tuesday.
Perry praised Van de Putte and her colleagues for appropriating $1.1 billion in financial aid during the 2009 legislative session, but his primary message was that anything is possible in Texas for those willing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
"I'm challenging you to start a new family tradition," he told the students. "Become an inspiration to a younger sister or brother or cousin. Be the one to take that risk, to go that extra mile, to open their eyes to a brighter future."
Perry also emphasized the financial benefits of a college degree, saying the average income in the United States for those with a master's degree is $25,000 higher than for those with only a high school diploma.
"Money is what drives a lot of the thought process of young people," Perry said at a brief news conference after his speech. "What we're trying to do with events like this is not only to energize them, but to educate them. A lot of kids don't know the amount of financial aid that we have available."
Perry and his gubernatorial opponent, former Houston Mayor Bill White, have traded jabs on education in recent weeks, even arguing about the extent of the state's school-dropout problem.
White says 30 percent of Texas students fail to graduate in four years, while Perry's campaign contends that only about 10 percent of the state's students are permanent dropouts.