Rick Perry -- conservative?

There has been much, and seemingly lately an increasing call for Governor Rick Perry to enter the fray to end Barack Obama’s presidency with just one term.

It is rather easy to see a case why Mr. Perry would make an excellent candidate. As a governor, Mr. Perry automatically has executive, political bona fides that are hard to match. Being a governor alone isn’t enough though; you have to be a good governor.

Mr. Perry seems to have that qualification answered well, too. During Mr. Perry’s tenure, the private industry in his state has been a job-creating machine. In fact, during this Great Recession, and non-recovery Recovery, his state has been the locality for a large chunk of the net jobs created. While much of the country is suffering and languishing, the state of the economy in Mr. Perry’s state is not too bad, thank you very much.

Further, Mr. Perry is not just a governor of the average state. Mr. Perry is the governor of Texas, whose economy ($1.22 trillion in 2008) if ranked as a country unto itself would nearly qualify Texas for the G8.

This leads to another positive spin for Governor Perry – fundraising. Mr. Perry is not in the field of candidates right now. He cannot use political funds donated for his Governor campaigns to run for President. Effectively, Rick Perry has ZERO dollars in any campaign accounts for President. He has no ground game built. He has not built a staff to put together a campaign – many candidates for such a staff are presently working for other active candidates, such as Tim Pawlenty. However, Texas again is a large state chock full of large corporations, large private investors, and other legitimate benefactors that would presumably be happy to fund a Perry for President campaign. While Rick Perry might enter the campaign relatively late, he would have access to one Great Equalizer™ that would partially make up for that in a primary campaign – fundraising. Rick Perry is probably the only other potential candidate for President that could match the fundraising of Mitt Romney, or for that matter Barack Obama.

Perry for President?

So, what about Rick Perry as a candidate for President? What kind of Presidency could we expect from Rick Perry? What are Rick Perry’s conservative bona fides? Because for me, in this primary contest, I am not interested in simply unseating Barack Obama. The candidate I am seeking to support in the primary would also be a strong leader of conservatives in government. I believe to truly unwind the vast depths of tyranny that has taken root in Washington, D.C. we will need a candidate devoted to Constitutional first principles as much as Barack Obama is devoted to centralizing the powers of government over people.

Well, an interesting thing happened in my household last week. As we had the TV on in the living room around supper time, Fox News had a blurb about how more rumors were swirling regarding a potential Rick Perry for President campaign. My wife immediately said something to the effect of, “Oh Rick Perry, he is a very bad man.” My wife is not exactly a political junkie by any stretch of the imagination. Frankly, I was surprised she even knew who Rick Perry was, so naturally I asked for clarification. My wife immediately relayed to me a story I had never heard about: how Rick Perry sought to mandate by executive order young women be immunized against human papillomavirus (HPV).

For those who might not know, HPV is a virus that can lead to several cancers, particularly in women. The point of contention is this – the virus is essentially a sexually transmitted disease. The chief vaccine – Gardasil – can prevent against such infections, but obviously is only effective before such an infection occurs. Gardasil is a vaccine, not a treatment. Thus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends Gardasil be administered to young women in adolescence, before the likelihood of any sexual activity.

The Opt-Out Clause myth

Naturally, the first response to defend Rick Perry is the “opt-out clause” encased within the executive order.

Without using the obvious comparison to Obamacare “waivers,” let me point out that the Governor’s sole vision still puts a mandate upon parents to apply for a waiver to not be immunized. My point remains, parents already had that right and privilege before the Governor’s order. Instead, the Governor changed the status quo to mean a child would be immunized unless you petition the government to stop the train and allow your child to disembark.

Further, this opt-out clause is not quite as simple as you might imagine. From Politifact:

The order included an opt-out “in order to protect the right of parents to be the final authority on their children’s health care.” Perry ordered the Department of State Health Services to allow parents dissenting for philosophical or religious reasons to request a conscientious objection affidavit form. That form, which has been available since 2003, enables parents to enroll their children in public school even if they lack state-required immunizations. It’s automatically granted as long as parents provide all required information.

According to the Department of State Health Service’s 2008-09 immunization report, which uses data from kindergarten and seventh-grade students at 1,300 independent school districts and 800 private schools, 0.28 percent of the students filed conscientious objection forms.

Parents must renew exemption affidavits every two years to maintain their validity, according to Allison Lowery, assistant press officer at the Texas Department of State Health Services.

We thought the opt-out form for public-school students proved Perry correct until we learned that not all private schools accept the affidavit. That means some private schools may not allow their students to exempt themselves from any state-required vaccinations. Some 15 percent of more than 1 million Texas girls in fifth through 12th grade in 2008 were enrolled in private schools, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to a 2006 Texas Attorney General’s opinion: “A private school that does not accept state tax funds is not required to accept for enrollment a child who has received an exemption from the immunizations required by the Texas Health and Safety Code.”

In its policy for Catholic schools, the Catholic Diocese of Austin states: “Immunizations are not in conflict with the Catholic faith. Conscientious objections or waivers, which may be permissible for enrollment in public schools, do not qualify as an exception to this policy.” Catholic schools in the diocese do accept medical exemptions, meaning if the immunization could somehow harm the child, it’s not required to enroll. [emphasis added]

To repeat, by the stroke of a pen Governor Perry changed the status quo, that parents must appeal to the government to not have their child immunized against a sexually transmitted disease. In practice, an opt-out provision is much more difficult than it sounds, particularly when scores of service providers (not just in Texas) require compliance with government mandates.

This is not liberty, this is tyranny.

The appearance of impropriety

While I was earning an advanced degree in business several years ago, you can imagine that “business ethics” was a hot topic in nearly every class within my curriculum. The news of the day was Enron and Sarbanes-Oxley. One definitional standard that stuck with me when seeking to determine ethical versus unethical behavior was the appearance of impropriety. In other words, maybe a particular action you are considering is wholly above board and completely honest. However, a valid test question could be: what will this action look like from the viewpoint of a disinterested third-party observer? What would it look like if the details were published in a newspaper report? If you can see that an action might appear unethical, then at the very least it is best to seek an even higher standard of scrutiny before proceeding. The mere appearance of a lack of ethics can make an honest and upright decision look untoward.

This standard brings us to the Merck Corporation, manufacturer of the only vaccine on the market at the time (Gardasil) that would satisfy Governor Perry’s executive order.

As part of its lobbying campaign, Merck has been funding Women in Government, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group made up of female state lawmakers. An executive from Merck’s vaccine division, Deborah Alfano, sat on Women in Government’s business council last year, and many of the bills across the country have been introduced by members of the group.

Merck declined to say how much money it has funneled into its lobbying campaign, or contributed to Women in Government. A spokeswoman for Women in Government, Tracy Morris, declined to say how much it had received from Merck. In Texas, one of Merck’s lobbyists is Gov. Perry’s former chief of staff, and Merck’s political action committee contributed $6,000 to the governor’s re-election campaign.
The Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2007 [emphasis added]

By authoring the mandate via executive order, rather than seeking a full public debate and allowing the light of the legislative process to shine upon such a government-mandated action – Governor Perry’s objectivity comes into question.

We all know that it takes cash to run successful campaigns. We know that businesses large and small donate money to candidates in that regard, just as do individuals. The mere nature of a political process will create associations between politicians and interested parties.  We do not need to assume the worst: that this was a quid pro quo, a “thanks for the donation” by Perry to Merck. However when presented with the sequence of events, it is not exactly a giant leap of faith to conclude that Governor Perry’s choice of action in this case was less than ethical. At the very minimum, it appears unethical due to the associations between the parties, casual and actual. I submit the Governor should have sought a higher scrutiny of his desired outcome, if only to maintain the appearance that his actions were not biased by his political donations and associations.

Liberty versus Tyranny

What gives me serious pause is Rick Perry’s clear, unforced choice that he apparently believes the government knows best regarding a child’s vaccination for a sexually transmitted disease. For me, it speaks to a troubling vision of government’s relationship with its people. While I know there is certainly evidence in Governor Perry’s background to counterpoint this example, it does not allay the concern. As I have said, the candidate I seek to support would restore the Constitutional vision of the relationship of the government to its people. Barack Obama, liberals, and statists in both major political parties have been shooting holes in the protections of people from their government within the Constitution for decades. It will take a spirited leader with enormous courage of convictions to do this in today’s Washington, D.C. With actions like these and others, I have serious reservations that Rick Perry would be such a person. In fact, I fear that in terms of leading a conservative movement, Rick Perry could be another George W. Bush. That is not a good thing in this case.

For my wife, she plainly states “I will never vote for that man.”  I suspect her viewpoint (and conclusion) as a mother and a conservative woman is not unique.

Further, I think the larger point is that for a potential candidate like Rick Perry, we cannot casually dismiss the fact that he has not been vetted by a national audience. While he may have run several successful campaigns for Governor in a very large state, that is still not equivalent to the microscope of national politics and national voters. If we effort to draft another candidate to the field, we do still run the risk (however significant) of drafting a candidate we may not “know everything” about. What might have been acceptable at one time to voters in Texas might play very differently on a national scene.

On my scorecard, I have serious reservations about the statist tendencies of several candidates:

  • Pawlenty – supported a state cap-trade energy initiative; decidedly not conservative. Apologized, for what that is worth.
  • Romney – his behavior regarding state control of medical care is well documented, and seriously troubling.
  • Perry – I have serious issues distinguishing Rick Perry from the above two candidates at face value. Perry’s obvious counterpoint is the relative success of the economy in Texas during his leadership. Pawlenty and Romney largely lose relative to Perry on this point. Make no mistake; this is a terrific trump card for Governor Perry to hold when the economy figures to be the chief issue of this Presidential campaign. However, does it matter if we restore economic prosperity in America, when a President cannot dependably lead from the front on conservative, Constitutional principles?

The Choice

Having other options, I will not caucus for a candidate who apparently sees no issue with government mandating my child be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease.  In a free republic, this should be a decision left to the parents of children, not the government.

Crossposted at BA Cyclone’s blog


In Rick Perry’s first days on the campaign trail, he openly apologized for issuing the executive order mandating HPV vaccines:

On his first day on the campaign trail, Texas Gov. Rick Perry admitted he made a mistake on the sole issue some pro-life advocates bring up as a concern despite his sterling pro-life record.

Perry, in a conversation with a New Hampshire voter, walked back his decision to mandate the vaccine Gardasil to 11-year old girls. According to a Politico report, a voter confronted him on the issue — explaining his remorse for the decision and indicating he put an opt-out provision in place allowing parents to decide not to have their young girls receive the vaccine.

Perry explained that, in his zeal to protect children, he went too far.

“I signed an executive order that allowed for an opt-out, but the fact of the matter is I didn’t do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry,” he said. “I hate cancer. Let me tell you, as a son who has a mother and father who are both cancer survivors.”

“I hate cancer. And this HPV, we were seeing young ladies die at the early age. What we should have done was a program that frankly should have allowed them to opt in, or some type of program like that, but here’s what I learned — when you get too far out in front of the parade they will let you know. And that’s exactly what our legislature did.

UPDATE: “I made a mistake on that,” Perry told Iowa Radio later in the day Monday, calling it “an error in not having a conversation with the people of the state of Texas.”

“I agreed with their decision. I don’t always get it right, but I darn sure listen,” he said of the legislature responding to his decision.

“One of the things I do pride myself on, I listen. When the electorate says, ‘Hey, that’s not what we want to do,’” Perry told Houston’s ABC affiliate on Monday. “We backed up, took a look at what we did.  I understand I work for the people, not the other way around. There was a better way to do that, I realize that now.” [empasis added]

In modern politics, you rarely get a far-reaching and complete ‘apology’ like this on any issue of importance.  When someone offers an apology, I believe we need to consider their sincerity and by discernment, consider the matter closed.  I believe we have that situation here.

Considering this mea-culpa, I consider my issues with Rick Perry’s candidacy completely closed.  Rick Perry is a true conservative, and he is also human.  Rick Perry is a governor and has served as governor for 10 years.  Everyone makes mistakes.  What is critical is that our leaders learn from such mistakes.  I cannot help but consider that a candidate with Rick Perry’s level of experience as a leader and executive in government public service would make an excellent President of the United States.