National Catholic Register

Daily News

Presidential Hopefuls: Gov. Rick Perry

The Texas Republican signed the Susan B. Anthony List’s pro-life pledge and the National Organization for Marriage's pledge, but values voters may find his views on the death penalty and mandatory Gardasil for sixth-graders troubling.


| Posted 8/26/11 at 12:50 PM


When Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a GOP presidential hopeful, said in July that, if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, the issue of abortion would then bounce back to be decided by the individual states, he evoked challenges from many in the pro-life movement.

Perry based this stance on his interpretation of the 10th Amendment, which states that all powers not specifically named as belonging to the federal government are granted to the states.

“You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don’t,” Perry said at the time. “You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then [for] something that doesn’t suit you say, ‘We’d rather not have states decide that.’”

Robert George, McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, rebutted Perry’s stance in a press release from the Susan B. Anthony List. George argued that under the 14th Amendment, which forbids a state from taking a life without due process, the federal government has an obligation to protect human life.

When Perry signed the Susan B. Anthony List’s presidential pro-life pledge on Aug. 23, he implicitly recognized the view of the federal government’s role as stated by George.

“Gov. Perry has been a longtime friend of, and leader for, the pro-life community,” SBA List’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said in a statement. “His signature on our pledge is more than welcome, and we applaud him for his commitment to continue to fight for women and unborn children.”

Perry has close ties to pro-life groups in Texas. “He’s been totally pro-life his entire political career,” Elizabeth Graham, executive director of Texas Right to life, told the Register. “He has the pro-life cause in his heart.”

Graham said that Perry had restructured legislative committees to make it easier to pass pro-life legislation. As lieutenant governor, in 1999, Perry worked for passage of the Parental Notification Act, considered one of the most important pieces of pro-life legislation in Texas history. It is credited with reducing the number of minors seeking abortions in Texas.

Perry has signed a number of pro-life pieces of legislation: a law prohibiting abortion in the third trimester, another ending taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, and the Prenatal Protection Act, which expanded the definition of human life to include “every stage of gestation from fertilization to birth.”

Perry’s judicial appointments have also won praise from the pro-life community, according to Graham. She mentioned as examples Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, a Republican and the first African-American chief justice in Texas. Another appointee is Eva Guzman, whom Perry hailed as “a strict constructionist with an unmatched work ethic” and a “principled conservative” when he named her to the state Supreme Court.

On another important issue, however, Perry’s record is troubling to some in the pro-life movement. Perry is a supporter of the death penalty, and he has presided over no fewer than 234 executions in his 11 years as governor of Texas.

“If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas,” the colorful governor wrote in his book Fed Up.

One of Perry’s most controversial stands was his opposition to legislation banning the execution of people with mental disabilities in Texas. But the case that is most often cited in discussing Perry’s record on capital punishment is the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted of intentionally killing his three small children through arson.

When the New Yorker magazine published a sympathetic profile of Willingham in 2009, five years after his execution, it became clear that the case would continue to raise questions about Perry. Crucial to convicting Willingham, according to the story, was the testimony of Texas investigators, who expressed no doubt that the lethal fire was arson. Willingham had made it out of the burning house, while his children died.

That judgment was challenged, however, following an investigation conducted by Gerald Hurst, a nationally recognized arson expert. Hurst said there was no way to establish that the Willingham fire was the result of arson. The Hurst report was sent to Perry with a request for a 30-day stay of execution. Perry refused to grant a stay.

For opponents of capital punishment, Willingham has become a symbol of the innocent man executed.

“It’s hard to say with 100% certainty whether Willingham was guilty or innocent,” said David Atwood, founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

“But he was convicted because a Texas investigator said that the fire was arson and not accidental. These investigators were contradicted by the nationally recognized investigator, who said it could not be established that there was arson. It would have been better to err on the side of life, but the governor went ahead with the execution,” said Atwood.

Critics contend that Perry had nothing to lose in granting a brief stay. However, Bernie Dobranski, dean emeritus at the Ave Maria School of Law — who stressed that he had no special familiarity with the Willingham case — said that governors usually don’t grant such stays unless they find new evidence that is convincing. “Perry obviously didn’t think this request rose to that level,” said Dobranski.

Dudley Sharp, a longtime advocate for the death penalty, believes that “the death penalty protects innocent people” and insists that Hurst lacked forensic evidence available to the original investigators. He also argued that Hurst was unable to show definitively that the fire was not arson.

“Perry could easily have thought that were was nothing that warranted a stay,” Sharp said. “It was just another expert. That’s the trouble with dueling experts. You’ve got Fred Expert and Wilma Expert opposing each other.”

That explanation was challenged by a Texas journalist who has covered the issue.

“The evidence presented at Willingham’s trial was not scientifically valid,” said Dave Mann, a reporter at the Texas Observer. He added, “if the trial were being held today, Willingham would not be convicted.”

Although the issue of capital punishment may affect the way voters view Perry, it would not surface if he were elected president. Same-sex “marriage” is a different matter, as the president and his Department of Justice can strongly influence policy on this deeply contentious matter.

Perry’s fondness for the 10th Amendment may get him in trouble with voters who want an unconditional endorsement of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Speaking at the Aspen Institute in July, Perry was asked about the recent legalization of homosexual “marriage” in New York. After making it clear that he is “pro-traditional marriage,” Perry said that New York stance on same-sex “marriage” was “fine with me” because “that’s their call.”

Later, he appeared to backtrack on this remark: He signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge, which calls for the federal government to support traditional marriage. The NOM pledge calls for a constitutional amendment stating that marriage is between a man and a woman, for vigorous support for the Defense of Marriage Act, the appointment of marriage-friendly judges, and the creation of a commission to investigate charges of harassment of traditional marriage advocates.

“Kudos to Gov. Rick Perry for making it clear: He’s a marriage champion!,” said Brian Brown, president of NOM. “The purpose of NOM’s Marriage Pledge is to move from vague values statements to concrete actions to protect marriage. Gov. Perry joins Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum as a signer of NOM"s Marriage Pledge. By doing so, Perry makes crystal clear that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, gay marriage is going to be a bigger issue in 2012 than it was in 2008, because the difference between the GOP nominee and Pres. Obama is going to be large and clear.  We look forward to demonstrating that being for marriage is a winning position for a presidential candidate.”

Perry may have a problem with values voters on another issue, however. In 2007, Perry bypassed the state legislature and issued an executive order requiring that sixth-grade girls receive the Gardasil vaccine. Gardasil protects against the human papillomavirus, the cause of cervical cancer. HPV is sexually transmitted. 

In Texas, many parents of teen-aged girls were up in arms at the mandate for vaccination against a disease that is spread by sexual intercourse.

Perry came under such heavy fire that he wrote a piece defending himself in USA Today.

“I will always take the side of protecting life,” he wrote. Critics of his vaccination policy considered this a weak response. More recently, columnist Michelle Malkin penned a widely circulated column attacking the executive order as an example of “bad, Obama-style medicine.”

Perry has tried to distance himself from the controversial executive order, admitting it was wrong to bypass the state Legislature. However, he didn’t completely repudiate his position.

Despite the governor’s high standing within the Texas right-to-life movement, he should expect Gardasil questions to dog him on the campaign trail.

In our series on the men and women who have announced their candidacy for the office of president of the United States, Register correspondent Charlotte Hays has profiled /Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney. She writes from Washington, D.C.

The Governor’s Economics

As Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign has gathered momentum, Texas’ economy has become a hot topic nationally.

Texas has created an astonishing 37% of all net new jobs in the country since the recovery officially began in June 2009, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Indeed, in the past five years, the state of Texas has created more new jobs than all the other states combined.

This is one of Perry’s prime talking points as he seeks the White House. But can he claim credit for the job creation? What principles have driven Texas’s job creation boom?

One of Perry’s clearly articulated ideals, expressed on the campaign trail and in his book Fed Up, is his vision of limited government. Perry believes in letting the private sector lead.

“If you watched his announcement speech in Charleston, S.C.,” said Joshua Trevino of the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, “he had a line in which he said that [he would] work to try to make Washington as inconsequential in your life as he can. That is his philosophy in a nutshell. That is how he has governed.”

The question voters will have to decide is whether this philosophy helped create the Texas record of job creation, and, if so, is it applicable nationwide?

In an often-quoted column, New York Times’ Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman has already thrown down the gauntlet. “So what you need to know is that the Texas miracle is a myth,” Krugman wrote, “and more broadly, that Texan experience offers no useful lessons on how to restore national full employment.”

“I don’t think there’s a Texas miracle,” said Dave Mann, a reporter at the venerable Texas Observer, a bastion of Texas liberalism, “but it’s unquestionable that Texas has performed well and definitely better than other states.”

Mann attributes Texas’ success to the entrepreneurial character of the state more than to Perry’s leadership. A state with low taxes and a weak regulatory policy, Texas is one of nine states in the Union that have no state income tax.

One claim frequently lodged by those who insist that Perry is not entitled to bragging rights is that Texas owes its economy to its present booming energy business, not the governor’s policies.

Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow and energy expert at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a free-market think tank headquartered in Dallas, noted that the United States has energy resources to rival Texas. But instead of giving the energy businesses freer rein, as Texas does, the U.S. increasingly regulates their operations, he said.

Burnett attributes much of Texas’ success to the state’s lack of regulation. “Perry has fought regulations,” Burnett said, “including regulations the state has tried to impose on us. President Obama put a moratorium in place. Texas didn’t. If you are interested in economic results instead of paperwork, the Texas plan under Rick Perry works.”

The Texas Legislature, with the staunch support of Perry, adopted a “loser pay” policy in medical malpractice suits. There are several points in a lawsuit during which the plaintiff can pull out without risk of paying the court costs. Texas also has a cap on the award possible for pain and suffering, though there is no limit on what may be awarded to take care of a person who has been injured by a doctor or hospital.

As a result of this tort reform, say supporters, physicians are flocking to Texas, where they can practice medicine with less fear of frivolous lawsuits and lawyer-churned-up class-action suits. Medical malpractice insurance is correspondingly lower.

“One of the biggest facts is that before tort reform we did not have enough physicians in Texas, and now there is an inflow of doctors,” said Trevino.

Ryan Brannan, a policy expert at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, estimates that Texas has attracted 27,000 new doctors since tort reform began in 2003.

Meanwhile, Dallas Fed chairman Richard Fisher recently attributed tort reform on issues like product liability and class-action suits as the reason why large companies like John Deere have set up shop in Texas, generating new jobs.

“The doctors and companies point to tort reform as a success,” said the Texas Observer’s Mann. “The other side is the trial lawyers and others who would say that it has closed courtroom doors to some people.”

For example, in the wake of a $250,000 cap on the deaths of relatives in nursing homes, fewer lawyers are willing to take these cases. Yet some tort-reform supporters counter that by preventing the courts from being clogged with possibly frivolous suits so people with legitimate claims have a better chance of getting their cases heard quickly.

Although few can quibble about the explosion of jobs in Texas, a right-to-work state, questions have been raised about the quality of the jobs.

“We have lots of jobs,” said Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, “but they are not very good jobs. Texas ties Mississippi for the highest portion of a workforce at or below the minimum wage. This mirrors state government which has low taxes and a low level of services.”

And although Texas has created more new jobs than any other state, its unemployment rate is 8.2%. That’s better than the national rate of 9.1%, but still not the lowest in the nation. An influx of new people needing jobs, including unskilled workers, has arguably contributed to the state’s unemployment rate.

“Perry is going to get hit on the ‘preferential option for the poor,’” said Bernie Dobranski, dean emeritus of the Ave Maria School of Law. “The point that needs to be made is that free markets are the best way to create prosperity and further the common good. A thriving economy is how you help the poor.”

Walter Williams, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, who has written extensively on the impact of raising the minimum wage, underscores this point in even blunter terms.

“Making $7.25 an hour is better than making $0 an hour,” Williams said. “The history of jobs is that the person who starts out with a minimum-wage job will eventually get a better job.” A high minimum wage, Williams said, always makes for high unemployment among the less skilled.

Perry may be the conservative’s conservative, but on one issue he is likely to face criticism from some of the GOP base — immigration. He is a backer of the Texas version of the Dream Act, which allows in-state tuition help for children of illegal immigrants.

Although Perry has made a point of installing cameras at the Texas-Mexico border, and has called for better border control, he criticized Arizona’s more stringent immigration law, arguing that such a law “would not be the right direction for Texas.”

— Charlotte Hays