People For the American Way is dedicated to fighting for equal rights, freedom of speech, religious liberty and equal justice under the law for every American. One way we do that is by supporting great progressive candidates throughout the country through the Young Elected Progressives (YEP) program. The YEP program supports progressive candidates 35 and younger running for local and state offices, helping them win elections so they can start enacting change nationwide. This is done with an endorsement from PFAW’s Action Fund, along with monetary donations, volunteer hours and political support from people like you!
We will be revealing this year’s Young Elected Progressives program endorsed candidates through a series of blog posts highlighting a few candidates and their accomplishments. Today, we’ll introduce you to State Senator Angie Buhl (SD), Representative Dwight Bullard (FL), and Mary Gonzalez (TX).
Angie Buhl is running for reelection to the South Dakota Senate, where she represents the city of Sioux Falls. Buhl was first elected in 2010 at the age of 25, becoming the youngest woman to ever serve in South Dakota’s Senate.
Buhl has quickly become a leader in the state Senate and a voice for South Dakota Democrats. She has already risen to the position of Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and she serves on the Judiciary, Commerce & Energy, Retirement Laws, and Interim Rules Review Committees.
Buhl is a proven progressive champion and an advocate for equal rights. She has served on the board of Equality South Dakota, as well as South Dakotans Against Discrimination and The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She is also an active member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, which provides a network of support to elected officials 35 and under, and the National Women’s Political Caucus of South Dakota. Visit her website here.
Dwight Bullard is running for Florida Senate in the 39th district. He has served in Florida’s House of Representatives since 2008.
Bullard, a high school teacher by trade, has shown great leadership in Florida’s education system both in and out of the classroom. As the ranking Democrat in the education committee and the pre K-12 education policy committee in the state legislature, Bullard is a leader in fighting for public education reform. Bullard also sponsored the Florida DREAM Act, which creates a pathway for undocumented immigrants to get in-state tuition.
Bullard has been recognized often for his work, including receiving the Barbara Jordan Leadership Award from affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. Additionally, he was awarded the Young Democrats of Miami Dade Outstanding Leadership Award from the Miami-Dade Democrats and the Next Generation Leader Award from the Florida Association of School Administrators. Visit his website here.
Mary E. Gonzalez
Mary E. Gonzalez is running to represent District 75 in the Texas House of Representatives. Gonzalez won the Democratic primary with 52% of the vote in a three way race back on May 29th. She will become the only current openly gay member of the Texas legislature.
Gonzalez has spent the past several years working in higher education. She has served as the Program Coordinator in the Multicultural Engagement Center at the University of Texas at Austin and was the Assistant Dean for Student Multicultural Affairs at Southwestern University. She also serves as the National President of the service sorority Kappa Delta Chi and Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for allgo, Texas' state-wide Queer People of Color organization.
Gonzalez has been named as one of the Hot 25 under 25 most influential young Latinos in the country by Latino Leaders Magazine for her leadership in education. Once elected, Gonzalez will join former state representative Glen Maxey as the only two openly LGBT members ever to serve in the Texas House. Her election may show a cultural shift in what is still a largely conservative state and gives the Texas LGBT community a voice in the Texas state government. Visit her website here .
While Florida’s local election supervisors are rebelling against a flawed voter purge championed by Gov. Rick Scott, the Houston Chronicle reports that Texas is holding its own voter purge that could jeopardize the status of hundreds of thousands of registered voters. As noted in the People For the American Way Foundation report, The Right to Vote Under Attack, faulty purge programs “can effectively disenfranchise large numbers of eligible voters” and have been frequently used to accomplish partisan agendas, and the Chronicle has already found many instances of people being wrongfully purged from the rolls:
More than 300,000 valid voters were notified they could be removed from Texas rolls from November 2008 to November 2010 - often because they were mistaken for someone else or failed to receive or respond to generic form letters, according to Houston Chronicle interviews and analysis of voter registration data.
Statewide, more than 1.5 million voters could be on the path to cancellation if they fail to vote or to update their records for two consecutive federal elections: One out of every 10 Texas voters' registration is currently suspended. Among voters under 30, the figure is about one in five.
Texas voter registration rates are among the lowest in the nation, but Texas pays nearly twice as much to cancel voters - 40 cents per cancellation - as it does to register new ones at 25 cents.
State and federal laws require the nation's voter rolls be regularly reviewed and cleaned to remove duplicates and eliminate voters who moved away or died. But across Texas, such "removals" rely on outdated computer programs, faulty procedures and voter responses to generic form letters, often resulting in the wrong people being sent cancellation notices, including new homeowners, college students, Texans who work abroad and folks with common names, a Chronicle review of cancellations shows.
People For the American Way is happy to congratulate Mary E. Gonzalez on her win last night in a Democratic primary in El Paso, Texas. She will run unopposed in November for District 75’s seat in the Texas State House of Representatives. Gonzalez, endorsed by PFAW Action Fund’s Young Elected Progressive program will be the only current openly gay member of the Texas state legislature.
Gonzalez won her primary with a decisive victory and garnered 52% of the vote. She has spent the past few years working in higher education with the University of Texas at Austin and Southwestern University. Additionally, she’s shown great leadership with her work as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for Texas’ Queer People of Color organization.
Once elected, Gonzalez will join former State Representative Glen Maxey as the only two openly LGBT members to have served in the Texas House. Her election may show a cultural shift in what is still a largely conservative state and gives the Texas LGBT community a voice in the Texas state government. Her addition to the Texas State House of Representatives cuts the number of state legislatures without an LGBT official to 16.
One of the most absurd things to come out of American politics in recent months is the allegation that the president’s proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans – bringing them back to the levels they enjoyed under Clinton -- amounts to “class warfare.”
In the Huffington Post last week, PFAW’s Michael Keegan called the GOP’s renewed cries of “class warfare” both “ironic and cynical.”
If you want to see what class warfare really looks like, you need look no further than Texas, where a group of oil companies has successfully lobbied to have a government panel re-examine a very large tax break that they were previously denied, and are now on the verge of receiving a $135 million gift from the state. Who’s paying for that gift? Public schools.
Here’s how the oil companies, led by Valero, are wrangling the refund from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, according to the AP:
Valero first asked for the refund for six of its refineries in 2007, and wants payment retroactive to that year. Since then, at least four other companies have asked for the same retroactive refund.
Valero argues the units should be exempt under a Texas law that says industrial plants don't have to pay taxes on equipment purchased to reduce on-site pollution. The law saves companies millions, and is meant to encourage investment in new technology.
At first, the request was denied. The commission's staff said the hydrotreaters reduce pollution in diesel and gas, not necessarily at the plant. In fact, staff said, the hydrotreaters actually increased sulfur dioxide pollution near the refineries because the toxic gas is now burned off in a flare.
Valero appealed, and the panel's chairman, Bryan Shaw, said last April that the Legislature likely intended a broader interpretation of the law. He instructed his staff to research whether they could award partial exemptions to Valero. Shaw declined to be interviewed for this story, saying it could present a conflict because the issue will be brought before him again.
Shaw, the environmental commissioner who encouraged the panel to take a new look at the oil company tax refund, was hand-picked for his post by Gov. Rick Perry. He’s an odd choice to head an environmental quality panel – as Mother Jones reported last week, he’s a climate change skeptic who has a long history of siding with industry over environmental groups.
But Gov. Perry’s ties to the oil industry run deep – since 1998, he’s raked in $11 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies, including $147,895 from Valero, the company that’s leading the effort to get the $135 million tax refund.
While oil companies enjoy expensive access to the governor and an ally at the top of one of the committees charged with holding them accountable, it’s the state’s children who are breathing polluted air and whose schools are being asked to pay for new corporate tax breaks. From AP:
Now, the AP's analysis shows, the Pasadena Independent School District may have to refund $11.3 million to two refineries if commissioners grant the request.
Early Monday, Gonzales and others handed out fliers, collected petition signatures and offered $10,000 cookies and brownies at a mock "bake sale" designed to raise awareness about the money at stake. Eight Houston schools planned similar mock sales for later in the day.
The mom-turned-activist said she learned about the refineries' requests while unsuccessfully lobbying earlier this year to convince Perry and the Legislature to dip into the state's so-called rainy day fund to ease cuts to the schools.
Gonzales lives near a miles-long stretch of refineries, where massive pipes and stacks light the night like skyscrapers do in other cities. An intense, burnt chemical scent hangs over the town.
"You smell it. That's what we're known for. Stinkadena because of the refineries," Gonzales said. "There are days when we can't go out because our children's asthma is that bad ... and then they want money back?"
Is it the American Way to make the children of undocumented immigrants live as second-class citizens?
The question came up in last night’s GOP presidential debate, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked about the policy in his state allowing some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities. “It doesn’t make any difference what the sound of your last name is, that is the American way,” Perry said. “No matter how you got in to that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what have you, and that’s what we’ve done in the state of Texas, and I’m proud that we are having those individuals being contributing members of our society, rather than telling them ‘you’re gonna be on the government dole.’”
Perry was met with boos from the crowd.
Rep. Michele Bachmann equated the Texas law to the federal DREAM Act (which is much broader and which Perry also opposes), saying, “I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer-subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws who are here in the United States illegally. That is not the American way.”
Perry is right that it’s not the American Way to punish children for the actions of their parents, which is why it’s odd that he’s against the federal DREAM Act, which would pave a path to citizenship for children who came into the country illegally who go to college or join the military. Perry seems to be trying to score “moderate” points for sticking up for his sensible policy in Texas, while having exactly the same view as Bachmann on a federal policy to achieve some of the same goals.
Watch the exchange:
The Austin Chronicle has set up a new Twitter account devoted exclusively to digging up old stories on the shenanigans of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. They’ve pulled up some good stuff, including this story from last year on the governor’s involvement in shutting a planned student production of a controversial play at Texas’ Tarleton State University.
The play in question was Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi, which provoked a furor from Religious Right groups when it was first released in 1998 because of its depiction of a gay Christ. The production was canceled after the playwright and theater staff received death threats, but it was later reinstated – with metal detectors at the door. People For the American Way Foundation was among the groups defending the right of the play to be put on in peace at the time, staging "A Quiet Walk for the First Amendment" in front of the theater on opening night.
How times have not changed. When a student at Tarleton State started working on a production of Corpus Christi last year, he ran up against opposition from none other than Texas’ Lieutenant Governor, David Dewhurst. Dewhurst issued a press release attacking the student production as a “lewd display” and “morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans.” The backlash unleashed by Dewhurst’s statement was so strong that the professor in charge of the show ultimately decided to cancel it and three other student productions because of “safety and security concerns for the students.”
While Perry’s deputy was the public face of the opposition to the show, the Chronicle dug up a tidbit from the Texas GOP website that made it clear that the governor himself was not only aware of but also involved in the censorship effort:
In a "thank you" note on the Texas GOP Vote website, Conservative Republicans of Texas President Steve Hotze gives credit (a-hem) to Dewhurst for his moment of censoriousness, but then adds this interesting little factoid:
We also owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Perry for his behind the scenes work to stop the play at Tarleton State. Ray Sullivan, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, was notified of the play on Thursday and after discussing it with the Governor, the necessary steps were taken to ensure that its performance was canceled.
This all brings to mind the GOP’s latest successful censorship attempt, targeting a recent exhibition about gays and lesbians in American Art at the National Portrait Gallery. Like the criticism of Corpus Christi, the criticism of the exhibit centered on both its acknowledgement of gay people and on a depiction of Christ that some on the Religious Right found objectionable. The groups targeting the exhibit were led by the far-right Catholic League, which also, not coincidently, was a leader in the fight against the original production of Corpus Christi.
The success of Religious Right censorship campaigns depends, in a large part, on the willingness of elected officials to play along. In the 1980s and 1990s, Jesse Helms took on the role of censorship champion. In the most recent Smithsonian scandal, John Boehner and Eric Cantor were more than willing to echo the complaints of far-right groups like the Catholic League. And if Perry’s involvement in the Tarleton Corpus Christi incident is any indication, if he were president he would be happy to lend his hand to similar efforts.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry raised eyebrows yesterday when, while campaigning in South Carolina, he likened the struggles of corporations resisting paying their fair share in taxes to the civil rights movement. When told that he was visiting a town where civil rights advocates held a sit-in fifty years ago, Perry mused that the corporate fight against taxes and regulation is an extension of the civil rights movement: “I mean we’ve gone from a country that made great strides in issues of civil rights,” Perry said, “And as we go forward, America needs to be about freedom. It needs to be about freedom from over-taxation, freedom from over-litigation, freedom from over-regulation.”
But it is important to remember that Perry’s fight for lower taxes and regulations for corporations (on the backs of low-income families) is not just an economic position but also a spiritual issue. Before his Response prayer rally earlier this month, Perry told The 700 Club that he would be praying to end “government’s over-taxed, over-regulated, over-litigated” policies that have “caused roadblocks to economic prosperity.”
In an interview with televangelist James Robison in May, Perry claimed that the current economic crisis was God’s way of ending our “slavery” to government. Like civil rights leaders who used the story of Exodus in their struggle against discrimination, Perry contended that “Pharaoh” exists today in the form of government and “we’ve become slaves to government”:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry formally launched his presidential campaign last weekend, apparently hoping to upstage those competitors who were slugging it out in the Iowa Straw Poll. The event was won by Michele Bachmann, whose core supporters come from the same Religious Right-Tea Party crowd expected to be Perry's base. He may have just made it official, but in fact Perry has already been running hard. A week before his announcement, he solidified the devotion of Religious Right leaders and activists with a defiantly sectarian prayer rally sponsored by some of the country's most extreme promoters of religious and anti-gay bigotry. His financial backers began hitting up donors a while ago.
Perry is hoping to take advantage of a relative lack of enthusiasm for the current Republican field and its erstwhile front-runners. His potential to upset the field is reflected in the fact that he was polling in the double-digits before even entering the race, drawing far more support than candidates like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum who have seemingly been running for years. Ed Kilgore at The New Republic wrote recently that Perry has become "the unity candidate of the GOP" because he "seems to perfectly embody the Republican zeitgeist of the moment, appealing equally to the GOP's Tea Party, Christian Right, and establishment factions while exemplifying the militant anti-Obama attitude that holds it all together." Perry does indeed draw support from both establishment and far-right Republicans: last year, prizes offered by his election campaign included lunch with GOP strategist Karl Rove and a spiritual tour of the U.S. Capitol with right-wing pseudo-historian David Barton.
The Religious Right
Perry's love affair with even the most extreme elements of the Religious Right is a long-term relationship that started years before the recent prayer rally. Over the years, Perry has persistently backed the efforts of Religious Right activists on the Texas school board to use the textbook selection process to impose right-wing religious and political ideology on science and history textbooks. He has shown little respect for the separation of church and state and has worked to further restrict access to abortion in the state.
His reelection campaigns have relied heavily on church-based organizing and networks of far-right evangelical pastors mobilized by the likes of self-described "Christocrat" Rick Scarborough. According to the Texas Freedom Network, Between May 2005 and October 2008 the Texas Restoration Project held eight pastors' policy briefings. Part of Perry's invitation to the October 2008 event said:
While Congress occupies its time trying to legislate defeat in Iraq, we hope you will attend a Pastors Policy Briefing that will equip you to walk point in the war of values and ideas.
Rediscovering God in America -- Austin is intended to remind us that excuses are not the proper strategy when facing evil and confronting enemies. Instead, we must rally godly people and seek God's provision for the resources, the courage, and the strength necessary to win and, ultimately, glorify Him.
In 2009, he participated in a closed-door session with Texas pastors sponsored by the U.S. Pastor Council, and hosted a state prayer breakfast that featured Gary Bauer as the keynote speaker. And last year, he was visited by a group of pastors associated with the dominionist New Apostolic Reformation, who told him that God had chosen him for bigger things; they were among the leaders of last weekend's "Response."
The Response itself was called by Perry but sponsored and paid for by the American Family Association, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its pattern or spreading false and denigrating information about gay people, and which promotes some of the ugliest bigotry spewed on the nation's airwaves. Among the extremist co-sponsors and speakers at The Response were dominionist Mike Bickle, who has said that Oprah is a harbinger of the anti-Christ, and pseudo-historian David Barton, who claims that Jesus opposed progressive taxes, the minimum wage, and collective bargaining by unions.
The Tea Party Right
Perry also seamlessly blends the Tea Party's anti-Washington fervor with the Religious Right's Christian-nation vision. Last year, at an event sponsored by the Texas Eagle Forum, Perry said the November 2010 elections were "a struggle for the heart and soul of our nation." Said Perry, "That's the question: Who do you worship? Do you believe in the primacy of unrestrained federal government? Or do you worship the God of the universe, placing our trust in him?"
If it seems remarkable and contradictory that Perry would seek the presidency so soon after speculating on the benefits of seceding from the union "if Washington continues to thumb its nose at the American people," it is no less contradictory than Perry promoting his anti-Washington book, "Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America from Washington," while repeatedly requesting federal emergency assistance to fight wildfires that have raged in Texas this year.
The Economic Right
Perry is almost certain to make jobs -- and his claims that Texas' low-tax, low-regulation, low-wage environment would be good for what ails America -- a centerpiece of his campaign. In fact he has been publicly praying about regulations that he says stifle business and jobs. That vision will almost certainly make Perry popular among the corporate funders that are increasingly funneling money into Republican campaigns in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that corporations have the same rights as citizens to influence elections.
Perry's economic policies may be good for corporate profits, but they aren't much of an economic model for the rest of us. Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote earlier this year:
Texas is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting -- the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending -- has been implemented most completely. If the theory can't make it there, it can't make it anywhere.
Debt owed by the state of Texas has doubled during Perry's tenure as governor; the state's per-capita debt is worse than California's. And this year, Texas lawmakers wrestled with a budget shortfall that Associated Press called "one of the worst in the nation." Perry's budget relied heavily on federal stimulus funds to plug a massive 2010 budget deficit. The budget finally passed this year cut some $4 billion out of state support for public education and is expected to result in tens of thousands of teacher layoffs.
Meanwhile, Texas ranks at or near the bottom of many indicators of individual and community health. It is worst in the country in the percentage of children with health insurance and pregnant women receiving early prenatal care. It has the highest percentage of workers earning at or below the minimum wage. It has the lowest percentage of adults with a high school diploma. It is worst for known carcinogens released into the air and among the worst for toxic pollution overall.
The Right Online
Perry has sometimes adopted the Sarah Palin approach to media. According to the conservative Daily Caller, Perry declined to meet with newspaper editorial boards during his primary race against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, but "went out of his way to make himself available to conservative bloggers." The Caller's Matt Lewis predicts that "a large percentage of conservative bloggers for sites like RedState.com" will "jump on the Perry bandwagon."
Perry the Prevaricator Perry statements have received no fewer than seven "pants on fire" ratings from Politifact Texas; he earned those awards for repeated false statements about his policies and his political opponents. Of 67 Perry statements reviewed by Politifact, 14 were declared false in addition to the seven "pants on fire" lies -- while another 10 were rated "mostly false." Only 17 were considered true (10) or mostly true (7), with 19 called "half true."
Perry and the Republican Party
If Rick Perry does indeed become the Republican "unity candidate," that will be further evidence that the GOP has become the party of, by, and for the far right -- a party that has abandoned any credible claim to representing the economic interests or constitutional values embraced by most Americans.
PFAW President Michael Keegan today wrote in the Huffington Post today about the radical and fanatical figures organizing Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s The Response prayer rally on August 6. Research from PFAW’s Right Wing Watch exposed many of Perry’s allies’ bizarre views, including interesting theories about Oprah Winfrey and the Statue of Liberty. Keegan writes, “The Response has turned out to be a powerful draw for the farthest of the far Right, attracting all varieties of extremists, whom Perry and his allies have welcomed with open arms.” Read the whole article at the Huffington Post and make sure to watch this must-see video on just some of The Response organizers:
As this is probably the kickoff event for Perry's run for the presidency, we should all know the backgrounds of the people and organizations that Perry is working with to promote the proselytizing event, known as The Response. His choice of allies belies the claim that it will be "apolitical" or even quasi-tolerant of non-Christians. Co-organizing and largely funding the rally is the American Family Association, a Religious Right group dedicated to infusing right-wing evangelical views into American politics. The AFA's chief spokesman, Bryan Fischer, is one of the most offensive voices in politics today. He has compared gays to Nazis and said gay people should be banned from public office; he has called for an end to Muslim immigration into the United States and a ban on the building of new mosques; he has said that Native American communities deserved past persecution and current poverty because of a refusal to convert to Christianity; he has even compared low-income African Americans to animals. In line with Fischer's views, the AFA dedicates itself to launching boycotts against companies that treat their gay employees well and sponsoring political get-togethers for the far right.
Then there is the International House of Prayer (yes, "IHOP"), the 24-hour-a-day worship powerhouse that has lent several senior staff members to planning The Response. IHOP's affiliated The Call rallies - politically charged events that gather hundreds of people to pray for anti-gay and anti-choice policies -- also serve as the model for Perry's event. As People For the American Way reported this month, the church's leader, Mike Bickle, has some pretty extreme views: he has warned that Oprah Winfrey is the harbinger of the Antichrist, and that marriage equality would result in the banning of marriage in some parts of the world.
And these are just the main organizers of the event. The Response has turned out to be a powerful draw for the farthest of the far Right, attracting all varieties of extremists, whom Perry and his allies have welcomed with open arms. Displayed prominently on the official "endorsers" page of The Response website are the names of pastors who have called the Statue of Liberty a "demonic idol"; blamed the 9/11 attacks on America's growing acceptance of gays and lesbians; blamed the mysterious bird deaths in Arkansas on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; and advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Several participants are prominent advocates of "Seven Mountains" dominionist theology, which is basically the idea that a certain far-right breed of evangelical Christians need to take over all aspects of American society -including government, business and entertainment - to pave the way for the Second Coming of Christ. Fittingly, in a perfect illustration of the increasing acceptance of extremism on the Right, Perry even welcomed the endorsement of John Hagee, the pastor whose anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic statements were so shocking that John McCain had to publicly reject his endorsement in 2008.
Perry, questioned about the ragtag team of extremists he has assembled to help him launch his possible presidential run, has repeatedly claimed that he is not responsible for the views of everyone with whom he associates. He's not - but he should know who he's going to for advice, and whose profile he's lifting with a national soapbox. Perry says that The Response is meant in part to seek spiritual guidance for the political problems our nation faces. If these are the people he's going to for guidance, and who he's lifting up to help solve the nation's problems, we should all be concerned. What these groups want is for a very small sliver of American Christians with a certain narrow set of beliefs to control American politics - and to restrict everybody else's freedom to worship or not as they choose. Rick Perry, citing his own religious freedom, seems more than happy to lend them a megaphone.
Here at People For the American Way, we’ve spent the last several weeks marveling as Texas Gov. Rick Perry plans a blockbuster Christian prayer rally in Houston, gathering around him a remarkable collection of Religious Right extremists – from a pastor who claims that the Statue of Liberty is a “demonic idol” to a self-described “apostle” who blamed last year’s mysterious bird deaths in Arkansas on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Perry claims the event is apolitical, but it is conveniently timed to coincide with the possible launching of his presidential bid and bolstered by groups that are dedicated to working far-right evangelical values into American politics.
Which is why we were all surprised today to find a story in The Hill titled “At second glance, Texas Gov. Rick Perry not as conservative as some think.” Really?
The evidence presented for Perry’s maverick-moderate tilt is that the governor has taken some reasonable positions on immigration reform and that he once angered Religious Right groups by requiring that all 6th grade girls in the state receive a vaccine for HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer.
Perry’s 2007 executive order requiring that the vaccine be offered to Texas’s sixth graders was a wonderful, progressive public health policy…but seemed a little odd coming from a far-right Texas governor. Interestingly, while the move angered Perry’s supporters on the Religious Right, it made one constituency very happy: lobbyists for Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical giant that manufactured the vaccine and stood to gain billions from the new law. The Associated Press reported at the time on the cozy relationship Merck had developed with the newly-reelected Texas governor:
Merck is bankrolling efforts to pass laws in state legislatures across the country mandating it Gardasil vaccine for girls as young as 11 or 12. It doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and has funneled money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country.
Details of the order were not immediately available, but the governor's office confirmed to The Associated Press that he was signing the order and he would comment Friday afternoon.
Perry has several ties to Merck and Women in Government. One of the drug company's three lobbyists in Texas is Mike Toomey, his former chief of staff. His current chief of staff's mother-in-law, Texas Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, is a state director for Women in Government.
Toomey was expected to be able to woo conservative legislators concerned about the requirement stepping on parent's rights and about signaling tacit approval of sexual activity to young girls. Delisi, as head of the House public health committee, which likely would have considered legislation filed by a Democratic member, also would have helped ease conservative opposition.
Perry also received $6,000 from Merck's political action committee during his re-election campaign.
Maybe Gov. Perry just really cared about helping prevent an epidemic and helping girls in Texas receive good medical care. On the other hand, health care for Texans doesn’t seem to have been a major priority for Perry: by last year, the tenth year of his governorship, Texas ranked last in the country in terms of the percentage of the population with health insurance and the percentage of insured children.
The “Perry bucks the Religious Right for the health of young girls” story will probably continue to reappear as he continues to be lauded as the Republican Party’s last, best hope for 2012. But the full story in no way proves that Perry’s an independent-minded moderate. Instead, it offers a case study of the sometimes conflicting priorities of the Religious and Corporate Right, and a politician who tries to appease them both.