Texas Governor Rick Perry has thrown his cowboy hat into the Republican Presidential circus, and has in a few short weeks surged into a commanding lead. Although he has had a little “foot in mouth” problem in the first couple of debates, he could very well be nominated as the Republican candidate for President in 2012. If so, and he defeats a weakened President Obama, saddled with continued high unemployment and continual sabotage of his agenda by the Republicans in Congress, our democracy, and our Democracy, may be over.
Rick Perry, or “Governor Goodhair”, as some Texans call him, with his Reaganesque good looks, is the nation’s longest serving governor, for ten years since he took over from George W. Bush in late 2000, has never lost an election. A fifth-generation Texan, he was born in 1950 in Paint Creek (near Abilene in flat, bone-dry West Texas) to cotton rancher parents. An Eagle Scout, in the late 1960s he attended the “Harvard of the Brazos”, Texas A&M, then being transformed from an all-male military school where ROTC was king.
A fraternity boy, Perry was a ROTC cadet, an Aggie“yell leader” (male cheerleader), and graduated in 1972 with a 2.5 GPA, majoring in animal science. His academic record was entirely
undistinguished, and he was put on probation after flagging Organic Chemistry several times. He also earned a flock of “D”s, in Trigonometry, Shakespeare, Veterinary Anatomy, and the
Principles of Economics, among other courses. One of his A&M classmates remarked that: “This was not the brightest guy…He was always kind of a joke.”
After a five-year stint in the Air Force, flying C-130 transport planes after the Vietnam War ended, in the U.S., Middle East and Europe, he returned to Texas and farmed cotton with his father for seven years. In 1982, he married his childhood sweetheart, Anita Thigpen, and they have two grown sons. In 1984 he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives (as a Democrat), and in 1990 (now a Republican), he became the state’s Agriculture Commissioner, reelected in 1994. In November, 1998, he was elected Lieutenant Governor, assumed the governorship a year later, and was reelected in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
Over the past ten years, he has adopted and articulated policies that are truly scary to Progressives:
- Crime. Since Perry became governor, Texas has executed 235 criminals (the last one this past week, and another later proven to be innocent, the investigation of which Perry covered up). He vetoed a ban on the execution of mentally retarded inmates in 2002, and two Mexican men have been executed under the Perry Administration, and the International Court of Justice concluded that Texas had violated their rights.
- Tort Reform. Perry sponsored a state constitutional amendment to cap medical malpractice awards in 2003 (which passed).
- Stimulus money. In 2009, he turned down $555 million in stimulus money for unemployment insurance, but also, after criticizing the stimulus package, took the rest of it and used it to balance the state budget.
- The Economy. Texas has no state income tax, but (unlike California) does have an oil severance tax. The unemployment rate in Texas is 8.2% (versus 9.1% for the entire U.S.). He claims to be a great job creator, but as George Romney has pointed out, much of that is due to the lack of state income taxes, to recent state population increases, and the booming oil industry, as well as lax regulation of businesses and anti-union laws. And Gavin Newsom has said that Perry has made several trips to California to steal jobs from our state, which does not create new jobs but only transports existing jobs to Texas. 9.54% of hourly wage workers in Texas are paid below or at the minimum wage, (versus 6.0% in the entire U.S.), the highest percentage in the country.
- Healthcare. 26% of Texans do not have health insurance (versus the U.S. average of 17%); even so, Perry boasts that Texas “has the best healthcare in the country”. He has gutted childcare services in Texas, even as Texas childhood poverty has hit 25%. And as came out in the most recent Republican Presidential debate, in 2007 he signed an executive order mandating that Texas 11 year old girls receive an HPC vaccine to protect against some strains of a virus that causes cervical cancer (the Texas legislature overturned his order). As Michele Bachmann gleefully pointed out in the debate, Perry has financial connections with Merck, the only company to make an FDA-approved vaccine at the time, and took what turns out to be $28,500 in campaign contributions from Merck, who also donated $377,000 to the Perry-headed Republican Governors Association, who then gave $300,000 to the Perry campaign.
- Abortion. Perry is pro-life, and opposes government funding for elective abortions, and in 2003 signed the Prenatal Protection Act, which included fetuses in its definition of human life. In 2005 he signed a bill that limited late-term abortions and required girls under 18 who seek abortions to notify their parents, as well as a parental consent bill, plus legislation prohibiting abortion in the third trimester of pregnancy, and another bill requiring abortion providers to give informational brochures to women considering abortion. Recently, he signed the “Mandatory Ultrasound Bill”, requiring a sonogram before an abortion and urging the woman to see it. In 2011, he signed a bill prohibiting taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood, and he also has stated that he wants to amend the Constitution to prohibit abortion.
- Gay rights. He wants to amend the Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage, and Texas passed a law in 2005 defining marriage as “only a union between a man and a woman”, and also prohibiting the state from recognizing any other similar legal status. Perry’s solution for gays: abstinence.
- Taxes. In 2009, Perry signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to “oppose and veto any and all efforts to raise taxes”.
- Immigration. In the most recent debate, Perry (to loud boos from the Teabaggers) stated that he supported the Texas law allowing children of illegal aliens who are moving toward citizenship to attend Texas state colleges at instate tuition rates. This mini-Dream Act is the only area where his policies are remotely close to that of Progressives.
- Religious beliefs. Perry grew up a Methodist, but he is a member of the Lake Hill (Baptist) Church in Austin, where George Bush also worshipped. He believes that those who don’t accept Jesus as their Savior will go to hell. On June 6, 2011, he proclaimed August 6, 2011 as a Day of Prayer and Fasting, and hosted a grotesque Christian prayer meeting in Houston run by the extreme right-wing American Family Association. The anti-Semitic New Apostolic Reformation played a major role in this event, which was called “The Response”.
- Evolution. Perry has called himself “a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect”, and has expressed support for it being taught alongside evolution in Texas schools.
- Education. Texas has the fewest percentage of adults with a high school education of all the states, and ranks very low in the high school graduation rate, and is 49th in verbal SAT scores and 46th in math scores.
- Guns. Perry has an A+ rating from the NRA, and has a license to carry a concealed gun permit. In 2007, he signed legislation enhancing a person’s legal right to use deadly force against a home intruder, and this year, he criticized the U.S. Department of Justice’s creating of a reporting requirement for purchasing semi-automatic weapons within the four states bordering Mexico.
- States’ rights. In 2009, Perry endorsed a resolution in support of states’ rights under the Tenth Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people”). He believes that the federal government has become oppressive in size and intrudes into the lives of the citizens and interferes with the affairs of the states. He has also flirted with the idea that when Texas “came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that…” (Texas did secede during the Civil War, and Perry should know that did not work out too well, but he did get a “C” in the History of the U.S. in college.)
- Climate change. Perry rejects global warming, calling it a “contrived, phony mess”, and with 75% of his state experiencing exceptional drought conditions and over 190 wildfires currently burning up his state and many thousands of homes, his response has been to ask for “Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas”.
- Federal Government. Perry supports abolishing life tenure for federal judges, a Constitutional amendment empowering Congress to overrule Supreme Court decisions by a 2/3 vote, and the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment providing for the direct election of Senators by the voters, and he supports the Balanced Budget Amendment and placing a limit on federal expenditures. Oh, and he also wants to abolish the federal income tax.
- Federal Reserve. Perry wants to do away with or radically reduce the power of the Fed, and he has suggested that Bernanke (originally a Bush appointee) be lynched if he ever comes to Texas.
- Pollution. Texas is the country’s biggest polluter, but Perry has sued the federal government for disapproving the state’s air pollution standards. He also opposes regulation of greenhouse gasses and wants to do away with the EPA.
- Social Security. Perry calls it “a monstrous lie” and “a Ponzi scheme”, and wants to get rid of it for younger Americans not on it now. He may try to backtrack further on this issue, but his written word sits out there, and he has repeated it orally during the debates. (Perry does not talk much about Medicare and Medicaid given his state’s abysmal record on health insurance.)
- Foreign policy. What’s that?
- Politics. Relations between Perry and George W. Bush (and his brain, Karl Rove) have been cool (or even hostile) in recent years. In 2007, Perry endorsed Rudy Giuliani for President, and when he withdrew, endorsed John McCain. In the 2012 primary battle, a monumental fight with George Romney is shaping up. It will be fascinating to watch, and may Democrats are pulling for Perry to be the Republican nominee, as current polls show President Obama beating him 50% to 42%.
But can you imagine Rick Perry as our President and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress? All the Progressive “progress” since the Great Depression could be rolled back or eliminated: Social Security, Medicare, “Obamacare”, the right to choose, capital punishment reform, other entitlements, gay rights, the sanctity of religion (except for fundamentalist Christians) and separation of church and state, teaching evolution, dealing with climate change, gun control (as weak as it is), the quality of education, life tenure for judges, and the finality of Supreme Court decisions.
President Perry would truly be President of “The Untied States of America”, and he might even allow states that are still unhappy to secede. If Perry is elected President, our 236-year experiment with democracy could very well be over.
Ted Vaill is an elected delegate to the California Democratic Party Convention in his second term, and has practiced law in California for over 40 years. Also a filmmaker, he is starting to work on a film about Rick Perry.