The GOP field for president is crowded. At present a crop of 11 candidates, not all viable candidates mind you, make up the field. But one big name that has all but announced who would add another name to the field is Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry’s record of running the largest conservative state in the country for 10 years, winning election three times, and presiding over massive job creation make up look great on the surface as a candidate. But is he? The GOP electorate has been clamoring for another candidate they can get behind but after Perry enters will he really be what GOP voters are craving in a candidate? Let’s explore this a little bit deeper with a look at his record as governor, past experience and a major controversy that occurred during his tenure as Governor.
Rick Perry entered public office in 1984, as a Democrat no less. Perry represented the old Southern conservative wing of the Democratic Party that was alive and well in the 80’s. At the local, state and Congressional level the South, including Texas, bled Democratic blue. Perry successfully won reelection to his state legislative seat in 1986. In 1988 Perry worked for then Senator Al Gore’s reelection campaign (Gore was reelected in 1990 in Tennessee). In 1990 though Perry forever changed his partisan stripe when he foresaw a change coming to Southern politics at every level. In 1990 Perry ran as a Republican for Secretary of Agriculture. Against a popular Democratic incumbent Perry won even as Democratic candidate Ann Richards won the governorship. Perry’s tenure as Secretary of Agriculture was uneventful and in 1994 he easily won reelection.
Perry’s political turn to the GOP, already a hot topic for debate at the time, got further review when he was asked to be the GOP’s nominee for Lt. Governor in 1998. Incumbent Republican Governor George W. Bush and his chief strategist, Karl Rove disagreed with the move. While the state party supported Perry, Bush basically shunned his partner (Governor and Lt. Governor in Texas are run for separately). Bush went on to win reelection easily as Governor and Perry had to squeak by with than 7,000 votes over a sess thn stellar Democratic challenger. In 2000 when Bush won the presidency Perry moved into the gubernatorial mansion. But in 2002 Perry’s job was far from secure. He was liked by the state GOP and conservatives but several establishment Republicans stood behind another candidate, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. Those who stood behind her included Karl Rove and H.W. Bush. In the end Perry avoided a primary by promising after he served two terms he would step aside. Perry easily won election for governor in 2002.
But Perry’s electoral path in Texas did not get any less intense. In 2006, during the midst of the Democratic wave and anger at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Perry faced not one but three challengers. Perry faced Democratic nominee Chris Bell but also Independent candidates Carol Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman. Perry won the race but with less than 40% of the vote. Bell attracted 30% of the vote and Friedman and Strayhorn received a combined 30% of the vote.
It was during this time that perhaps Perry’s most questionable action was taken as Governor. In early 2007 the Governor signed an executive order mandating 11 and 12 year girls receive the vaccine Gardasil. By all accounts the action was positively Communist. But there is a back story to the move. In 2007 Gardasil was put on the “recommended” immunization schedule issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control. Merck, the maker of the drug, mounted a massive lobbying effort to get state legislatures to mandate immunizations for their states kids. Perry would be the first governor to mandate that young girls recieve the three shot treatment.
Many in the state at the time questioned the wisdom of the move. Doctors of well-known hospitals and universities publicly expressed concern. Perhaps the most controversial part of the move was that Perry’s Chief of Staff and his Chief of Staff’s mother-in-law lobbied for Merck.
Perry took the pages of the USA Today to try to frame his actions as dealing with a public health necessity and being a pro-life move. The NY Times even came to Perry’s defense. Conservatives and Republicans alike were enraged. The legislature, which Perry had bypassed with his order, fought back. By large majorities both the state assembly and senate overrode his executive order. Perry opted to let the bill become law without his signature and thus allowed his executive order to stand.
Perhaps worst of all was on the day the bill became law Perry basically attacked fellow Republicans for trying to stop the move. Perry said, “They will never have to think twice about whether they did the right thing. No lost lives will occupy the confines of their conscience, sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.” Legislative Republicans fired back and Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, blasted Perry for “using cancer victims as his backdrop for an issue that he has grossly misjudged.” Bonnen went onto add “Just because you don’t want to offer up 165,000 11-year-old girls to be Merck’s study group doesn’t mean you don’t care about women’s health, doesn’t mean you don’t care about young girls.” (Tom Bevan, Real Clear Politics)
Two years later the National Vaccine Information Center issued a report regarding concerns over the harmful side effects of the drug. Not long after, an editorial by the Journal of the American Medical Association declared that “serious questions regarding the overall effectiveness of the vaccine” needed to be answered and that more long-term studies were called for. (Tom Bevan, Real Clear Politics)
This incident illustrated the worst moment of Perry’s career. He turned off conservatives and Republicans in droves and fanned the flames of calls for him to be gone in 2010. Texas has no term limits so Perry did not have to resign as Governor. And that is exactly what he did. In 2009 Perry officially announced he was running for reelection breaking his promise with the Bush’s and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson he would serve only two terms as governor. Incensed and angry at the deception, Karl Rove announced he was formally supporting Hutchinson and threw his 3rd party group’s support behind her.
Perry did not only face Hutchinson in the primary. He also faced political activist Debra Medina, who later in the campaign hinted she was a Truther in an interview with Glen Beck. Early on things looked bad for Perry. He was an unpopular governor in a time when people were unhappy with elected officials. But Perry’s crowning time was this campaign. Behind or tied in early polls to Hutchinson, Perry waged a anti-DC, anti-establishment campaign against Hutchinson. Perry’s charisma and skill at retail politicking helped immensely. The polls turned quickly and Perry moved ahead of Hutchinson. By May, days before the primary, the only question was whether Perry would hit the 50% mark in the primary and avoid a run-off (like most Southern states Texas has a run-off primary if no candidate gets 50% of the vote the first go-round).
That is where Medina’s Glen Beck moment came into play. Median had steadily been polling around 15% to 20% by the time of the primary, like Perry campaigning on an anti-DC theme. In fact, she was viewed as the spoiler who could get enough votes to keep Perry under 50% and force a run-off between him and Hutchinson. But when Medina hinted she might be a Truther, people who believe the US government was behind 9/11, her support on election day fell. Perry squeaked by with 51% of the vote and avoided a run-off in the primary. Ironically, Hutchinson who initially said she would resign from the Senate when she ran for governor, never did, and then recanted and said she would stay in the Senate until 2012. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_gubernatorial_election,_2010#Polling)
In the general election Perry started out with an early edge against Democrat Bill White. White was the former mayor of Houston and breezed in his primary. Perry and White ran differently themed campaigns but the result was the same. Perry went on to win an overwhelming 58%-42% victory over White. Democrats hopeful at the prospect the nasty GOP primary might have hurt Perry were disappointed. (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2010/governor/tx/texas_governor_perry_vs_white-1194.html#polls)
Perry’s economic record as governor over his tenure is mixed. He has presided over a huge jobs boom mainly in the energy field. He lowered taxes which he credits with luring foreign investors and workers from other states to Texas. He also eliminated dozens of burdensome regulations on businesses as he saw it. But Perry’s record in terms of jobs is not question by would be supporters for his GOP bid. His record as a fiscal conservative is. Texas has run budget deficits for most of Perry’s tenure. To be fair, Texas has a biannual legislature, which means in the economic downturns of 2001 and 2008 the legislature and Perry could do little to fix the budget holes created by lost revenue and jobs.
party-flipper, an excellent retail politicker and a rival of the Bushes (though to this day he and G.W claim to be good friends). He has defeated popular Democratic incumbents and never lost an election of any kind. He has enraged conservatives and Republicans, yet been able to build back up trust. He has in some ways acted like a micro-managing liberal and yet two years later run and trumpeted states right. He has made enemies out of Karl Rove and many of the Bush establishment yet survived unscathed. And in some ways Perry’s rocky relationship with the Bush’s has pushed his agenda.
But Perry like any candidate for any office or the three term Governor of a growing Republican state does have skeletons in his closet Republican primary and caucus voters will discover. Perry is sure to light fires in the GOP establishment and among core constituencies but you can be damn sure when he hits the campaign trial and debates the other GOP candidates they and the media will bring up the Gardasil issue and perhaps his frosty relations with the Bushs. I cannot speak for the millions who will decide the GOP nominee but Rick Perry does appear to be the real deal. The question is whether they agree. On a personal note I have to say I am impressed with Perry and welcome him into the GOP race to win my vote and the votes of many other Republicans.