Rarely, very rarely, has Rick Perry done something right as governor, and predictably a couple of those rare occasions got him in trouble last night from the tea partiers whose support he now spends most of his time courting.
The biggest bashings that Perry took from the right wing during the Republican candidates’ debate in Tampa were over his 2007 executive order to require school girls to be vaccinated against HPV, a virus causing cervical cancer, and his signing several years ago of a law allowing some children of illegal immigrants to qualify for lower, instate tuition at statesupported universities.
The assaults were led by Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, two candidates slipping into oblivion but trying desperately to keep finger holds on the rightwing fringe of the GOP presidential follies.
I didn’t think the HPV vaccine was a bad idea from a public health standpoint, although I strongly believed then and now that the executive order exceeded Perry’s constitutional authority. And, I was troubled that the order reeked of insider influence, as Perry’s opponents reminded everyone last night. The governor’s former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, lobbied for Merck, the vaccine manufacturer, and Merck also was a Perry political contributor. In any event, the Legislature, led by Republicans, quickly overturned the order.
The law, still on the books, giving a tuition break to immigrant children was a good idea then and is still a good idea, although it obviously continues to anger rightwing ideologues who wrongly try to blame immigrants for the state’s problems and refuse to accept the changing face of Texas. Only immigrant young people who have been in the country a while, have graduated from high school in Texas and meet university admissions requirements get the break. The idea is to enhance their chances of becoming productive members of Texas’ emerging future.
Now, I don’t know if Perry signed the law because he thought it was good policy or because he was urged to do so by political contributors whose businesses depend on a continued flow of inexpensive immigrant labor, legal or illegal, and are more interested in the health of their bottom line than in ideological jabbering.
I often suspect the latter because Perry has pretty much slammed the door on immigrants – and the descendants of immigrants – ever since.
This year, he advocated for and signed a photo identification law that will discriminate against minority voters. And his persistent underfunding of education diminishes the educational prospects of all Texas young people, especially disadvantaged kids trying to get ahead. Many of those are immigrants or their descendants.
That underfunding hit a new low this year, when Perry signed the worst public education budget in his 61year lifetime, an appropriations bill slashing $5.4 billion from the public schools and depriving thousands of deserving students of college financial aid. While educators and students struggle with the results, the governor brags and the tea party usually applauds. But not last night in Tampa.