The Perry problem

As various Republicans vie for the right to face the president of the United States in the 2012 election, Texans watched with more than passing interest as the man who has been their governor longer than any chief executive in Lone Star state history lurched into the race earlier this year. There was not overwhelming embarrassment with Rick Perry in his home state – we accept that our presidential timber encompasses a lot of “colorful” conduct from LBJ giving an interview while sitting on a White House toilet or lifting his shirt to publicly display the scar from recent gall bladder surgery, to Bush 43 in a flight suit prancing on the deck of that aircraft carrier under a “Mission Accomplished” banner even as the carnage in Iraq went on and on, or occasionally pausing to pose as a rancher cutting brush on his ranch.

Perry has always displayed a certain ideological flexibility since his days as Al Gore’s statewide coordinator in the ill-fated 1988 presidential campaign, back when he was a Democrat representing a rural district in the Texas House of Representatives. Call it rank opportunism or restless ambition, but Perry has shown a knack over the years for aligning himself with those who do him the most good. Now a Republican who preaches about the evils of government intrusion in people’s lives, Gov. Perry ordered every prepubescent girl in the state be given the HPV vaccine to protect against sexually transmitted disease. While Perry had long favored so-called abstinence education to curry favor with Christian conservatives who abhor real sex education, he used an executive order to mandate this vaccine for every girl at up to $1,000 a pop. By coincidence, the pharmaceutical giant Merck that manufactured the vaccine employed a lobbyist named Mike Toomey – former chief of staff to Perry.

These kind of deals have been labeled “crony capitalism” as those outside the state learn of Perry’s cash-and-carry approach to government. In his more than 10 years in the top job, he has appointed every single regent of every college and university in the state – almost without exception these men are Perry campaign contributors with the suggested buy-in starting at $5,000. Independent studies have shown his emerging technology fund and other economic incentive programs have been lucrative giveaways of state cash lining the pockets of Perry contributors who are salivating at the prospect of feasting at the federal trough.

Despite his 10-year run as governor – a post he inherited when Gov. Bush became president – Texans are not particularly overwhelmed by the man. Perry won re-election in 2006 with only 39 percent of the vote. In 2010, he aligned himself with the incipient Tea Party movement then coasted to a primary win after Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison ran one of the worst campaigns in modern Texas political history.

But good fortune has smiled on Perry, who frequently speaks of his humble origins. His family income when first elected to the House in 1984 was $45,000. Through a succession of real estate and business deals facilitated by those same cronies, Perry is now worth a reported $2.8 million.In the end, the real Perry problem is Rick Perry himself. His personal, political and financial transgressions are open secrets, making his verbal bumbling seem insignificant by comparison.