The Tug of War

Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison are locked in a pitched battle over the soul of the GOP. They are also running for governor.

Despite supporting the 2008 presidential campaign of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose liberal views on abortion and gay rights are well known, Perry regularly sounds a pro-life, anti-gay rights refrain and is depending on his conservative résumé to energize his base of extreme right-wing supporters. He also favors the death penalty, so much so that he vetoed a bill in June 2001 that would have exempted mentally retarded inmates from execution. Texas might still be executing the mentally retarded if the U.S. Supreme Court hadn't banned the practice a year later, ruling it cruel and unusual punishment.

Perry wrapped up the 2001 legislative session by vetoing 82 bills — the most any governor has nixed in any one session since Reconstruction. Masset says "the real burn" was that Perry didn't give legislators advance warning of his intentions, which didn't allow lawmakers time to amend their bills to ensure passage. "It's part of a theme with Perry that he doesn't communicate effectively or maybe he sees his position as governor as one where he doesn't have to communicate; he can just order by mandate."

In early 2002, Perry announced plans for the Trans-Texas Corridor, a $175 billion, 50-year plan that included 4,000 miles of new toll roads, rail lines and pipelines to be funded by public-private partnerships. The massively ambitious project — not exactly a shrine to limited government — soon became a drain on Perry's political capital as rural conservative voters grew outraged by the plan's liberal use of eminent domain.

Governor Perry continued to preach the Texas Miracle when he was featured speaker at the Texas Economic Development Summit.
Photos by Danny Fulgencio
Governor Perry continued to preach the Texas Miracle when he was featured speaker at the Texas Economic Development Summit.
Speaking before the local Republican Jewish Coalition in North Dallas, Hutchison preached a big-tent ­approach for the Republican Party.
Photos by Sam Merten
Speaking before the local Republican Jewish Coalition in North Dallas, Hutchison preached a big-tent ­approach for the Republican Party.

It even upset conservatives in wealthy ­areas such as Dallas's Preston Hollow neighborhood, where Hutchison resides and former President Bush lives. Former Dallas City Council member Donna Blumer, who once represented Preston Hollow and served as president of the Dallas Eagle Forum, recalls the anger of her former constituents toward the corridor, "That has made people mad," and toward Perry, "That is one of his warts."

And yet in 2002, Perry coasted through his first re-election campaign as governor, attracting nearly 58 percent of the vote, despite a $60 million campaign mounted by Democratic nominee and businessman Tony Sanchez. The mandate emboldened Perry's conservative agenda, and in 2003, he signed into law one of the most sweeping pro-­business tort reform bills in the country. The legislation included a cap on medical malpractice awards that has dramatically curtailed personal injury litigation against doctors and hospitals in Texas. That same session, he made deep cuts to the state Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which had been approved by the Legislature four years earlier when he served as lieutenant governor.

Perry's popularity reached new lows when the state faced a critical school-funding shortfall during the 2005 legislative session. Even though the majority of school districts assessed the maximum amount of property taxes they could under the law, it simply wasn't enough to adequately fund the school system. Because Perry refused to increase taxes to make up the difference, he vetoed all public-school funding for 2007 and 2008. To resolve the issue, he called two special sessions of the Legislature, both of which proved unsuccessful. It was only after he enlisted the help of Democrat John Sharp to head an education task force that the issue was resolved during a third special session in April 2006.

In the 2006 gubernatorial election, outgoing Republican state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn seized on Perry's ineffectiveness during the school-funding debate and ran as an independent against him, receiving 18 percent of the vote. Although Perry handily defeated Democrat Chris Bell, Perry received only 39 percent of the vote, with the rest split among the three independent candidates, among them Kinky Friedman, who is again running in 2010, this time as a Democrat.

If his hollow victory wasn't enough of a humiliation, his approval numbers continued their downward slide, particularly after he made national headlines in February 2007 when he signed an executive order requiring girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted disease. Some conservatives began to question his commitment to the cause: Here was big government as big brother, mandating personal decisions better left to parent, child and doctor. And the whole matter had the stench of cronyism after the media revealed that Mike Toomey, Perry's former chief of staff, worked as a lobbyist for Merck & Co., the drug manufacturer that sold Gardasil, the brand name of the vaccine. Merck's political action committee had also donated $6,000 to Perry's re-election campaign.

Even Cathie Adams, then president of the Texas Eagle Forum, spoke out against Perry. "The first state to mandate this vaccine will be placing children as the objects of experimentation," she told The Dallas Morning News in February 2007. The Legislature eventually approved a bill rescinding Perry's order, with just three of 181 lawmakers voting against it.

Perry badly needed to turn things around and re-establish his conservative bona fides. He saw that opportunity by embracing the Tea Party movement, a seemingly grassroots libertarian group that took to the streets, '60s-style, to protest President Obama's federal stimulus package but had the organizational and financial backing of former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey and the FreedomWorks nonprofit group he leads.

Perry's involvement in the Tea Party movement was no ideological leap: He's consistently criticized Obama's stimulus package and curried immediate favor with Tea Party activists when he rejected $550 million in stimulus money for unemployment insurance, claiming that to accept it would mean higher business taxes. But Perry has been a bit disingenuous in his posturing. While branding Hutchison as "Kay Bailout" because she voted for President Bush's Wall Street bailout, Perry accepted $14 billion in stimulus money that was used to balance the budget during this year's legislative session.

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