Turkeys of the Year

In a highly competitive 2009 field, Governor Rick Perry is the biggest gobbler of them all.

Ah, the halcyon days of 2003. George W. Bush still had an approval rating over 50 percent (barely, once the bump he got with the Saddam Hussein arrest vanished), the Texans still looked like they were improving instead of imploding and hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike were still a mere gleam in the eye of a butterfly about to flap its wings.

That year brought forth the first-ever edition of the Houston Press's Turkey of the Year awards, a hotly contested competition to see just who deserved recognition for either amusing, appalling or amazing the general populace over the previous 12 months. (Our inaugural overall winner: Tom DeLay.)

Houstonians with a Panglossian view of the world thought that the shame of being named a winner might put potential nominees on alert against fouling up. Instead, as we looked to put together our seventh annual list, we found the competition to be more intense than ever.

Communicating with players was never a Cecil Cooper specialty.
Chad Crowe
Communicating with players was never a Cecil Cooper specialty.
Financial mastermind Stanford is now getting in prison fights over who can use the phone.
Chad Crowe
Financial mastermind Stanford is now getting in prison fights over who can use the phone.

How badly did some people want to be named a winner this year?Just consider who didn't make the list.

The HISD geniuses who sent a drug-sniffing dog on a rampage, resulting in the highly publicized arrest of a popular teacher from a ritzy elementary who was the poster child for not doing drugs (charges were later dropped as surely as Steve Slaton fumbling on a Texans' run); the law-enforcement officers in Galveston County who ran up a string of arrests for people who happened to curse in public (WTF?); the BARC officials who seemed unable to wash puppies without sending a few down the drain to their wide-eyed puppy deaths; the Bellaire police department and mayor, who refused to apologize when they mistakenly shot a minority kid in his own driveway;

(Take a deep breath here before we continue)

Houston's hilarious string of wildly dressed bank robbers, including one who seemed to be wearing an '80s nightmare of disco splendor (yet who remains uncaught!); the classy, classy kids at Memorial High School, who put out a T-shirt showing their mascot gang-banging a rival's cheerleader, and then took to our comments board to express their indignation at people's indignation via the clever use of homophobia, illogic and third-grade grammar and spelling; the former Brazoswood High baseball star arrested for being the state's all-time deadbeat dad; the — well, we could go on and on.

And remember: These are the folks whodidn't make it.

So who did? Let's stop the suspense and get right to it.

Turkey of the Year:
Rick Perry

Last year Rick Perry won the Turkey Politician of the Year award for his prissy response to Mayor Bill White's cursing incident during Ike; this year he takes the whole turkey enchilada for a stunningly entertaining and embarrassing string of events that brought applause from the tea-bag minority of the country and derision from the rest.

Perry is the longest-serving governor in the state's history; the strange thing is that people don't seem to like him much. He won his last re-election with 39 percent of the vote, which is about what George McGovern managed to scare up against Richard Nixon in 1972.

This time around, though, it became obvious that things would be different. He would have an actual challenger from the Republican side. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, another one of those Texas politicians who keep getting re-elected without much effort, pretty much hates Perry's guts, wants to get out of Washington and knows the Texas governorship doesn't require a lot of heavy lifting.

So she announced she would be challenging Perry in the primary.

At the time it probably seemed like a good idea: Hutchison regularly rang up impressive election wins, and, as we said, Perry couldn't get 40 percent of Texans to vote for him last time around.

But Perry saw an opening as the Obama administration began, bringing with it riotous outrage from talk radio, Fox News and a whole bunch of people very, very recently converted to being concerned about deficit spending.

The GOP primary would be no place for a moderate, Perry knew, so his path was clear: Suck up to the tea-baggers. And Jenna Jameson couldn't have done a better job.

Sure, Perry entertained us with episodes such as firing a state board of forensics experts who dared to question whether he had wrongly executed a man, or suddenly setting aside, the moment he had a ­viable primary opponent, his long-standing, quixotic attempt to build a massive superhighway wanted by absolutely no one who wasn't directly getting a big paycheck from it, but it was his Tea-Bag Tango that set him apart from the other Turkeys of 2009.

Let us examine.

He boldly rejected federal stimulus money, then later quietly took it. "It's nothing out of the ordinary," he said after making his money grab. Perry also — while ranting loudly about federal interference with the states — found no trouble asking for funds to battle swine flu or "protect the borders."

Why it was Perry-licious: He came to what most news reports called "a Houston hardware store" for a media event where he said accepting the federal money would hurt small mom-and-pop businesses.

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