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Our Handy Guide to the Best Coverage on Gov. Rick Perry and His Record

The best reading on Texas Gov. Rick Perry to help you cut through the horse-race coverage and get oriented.

As noted below, this guide has been updated. This guide was originally published on Aug. 18, 2011.

This is the first installment in a series of reading guides on 2012 presidential candidates. Here are the other guides.

Rick Perry has made plentyof headlines since he announced his presidential bid. But with the deluge of day-to-day coverage, it’s hard to get a sense of his actual record. We’ve selected some of the best reading on Perry to help you get oriented.

The basics (updated Sept. 2, 2011):

If you want to go beyond the bio on Perry's campaign page, Texas Monthly reporter Paul Burka’s guide for Yankee journalists is a good place to start. It’s a list of eight insights gleaned from covering Perry since the 1980s, including the ways that Perry has reinvented the role of governor in Texas and how his rural upbringing has shaped his politics.

Perry is considered one of the most conservative 2012 GOP contenders. An interesting story in the National Review details how Perry is more conservative than his predecessor, former President George W. Bush. (The piece also dishes on Perry’s tense relationship with Bush.) Perry is also known for being among the first politicians to embrace the Tea Party movement. Perry believes that homosexuality is wrong and has written about how secular humanism is bad for society. He has expressed skepticism about many Federal government programs and has called Social Security “a Ponzi scheme.”

Perry articulates some of his more controversial views in his 2010 book, “Fed Up! Our Fight To Save America From Washington,” including the assertions that climate change is “all one contrived phony mess” and that the 16th Amendment, which allows Congress to levy an income tax, is a “milestone on the road to serfdom.” Politico has sent nine follow-up questions to the Perry campaign asking whether Perry stands behind some of the book’s "more politically explosive statements”. For instance: "Does he still believe Social Security is constitutional or unconstitutional? Does he believe it should never have been created?"

At a rally in 2009, Perry told reporters that Texas might secede if it got too fed up with Washington. Perry’s campaign said this week that Perry does not advocate secession.

The Texas Observer also details Perry’s ties to the New Apostolic Reformation movement, a strain of Christian belief in which politics and faith are intertwined.

Perry is also skeptical of evolution. While campaigning in New Hampshire this week, Perry told a 9-year-old boy that evolution is a "theory that’s out there" that’s "got some gaps in it.” He also said that Texas public schools teach both evolution and creationism. TPM reports that teaching creationism in public schools was ruled unconstitutional in 1987.  (Updated Aug. 18, 2011

A 2006 profile in the Dallas Morning News gives us a look at Perry’s early life and how he got into politics. To gain insight into Perry as a campaigner, Texas Monthly interviewed several people who’ve run against him and lost. The Texas Tribune profiles the people in Perry’s inner circle.

Overview of his record as governor (updated Sept. 7, 2011):

What did Perry actually do during his decade-long stint as Texas governor? One of Perry’s most-touted accomplishments as governor has been job creation. In his presidential announcement speech, he said:

Since June of 2009, Texas is responsible for more than 40 percent of all of the new jobs created in America. Now think about that. We’re home to less than 10 percent of the population in America, but 40 percent of all the new jobs were created in that state.

But it’s unclear to what extent Perry’s policy decisions were responsible for creating those jobs. The Austin American-Statesman lays out all the factors that went into Texas’ economic success over the past few years. Yahoo! News took a closer look at jobs data and found holes in Perry’s narrative that limited regulation of business was the major driver of Texas’ economic growth. Yahoo! and others have noted that part of the growth was driven by the state and local governments, which have actually added many jobs.

The National Journal has an overview of Perry’s performance on the economy, education and health insurance, accompanied by some useful charts. The Journal found that Texas still has a high poverty rate, despite the strong jobs figures, and that the state’s high-school graduation rates are below the national average. The contributors to Ezra Klein’s blog put together a series of critical posts evaluating Perry’s record on balancing the budget, creating jobs, Medicaid and the environment. Perry’s PolitiFact report card shows a mixed record when it comes to making accurate statements.

Rick Perry interrupted his campaign to this week to deal with the wildfires raging in Texas, which have destroyed nearly 800 homes. Unfortunately, the Texas Forest Service—the main state agency that fights wildfires—has been working on a reduced budget, thanks in part to Perry’s stance against increasing taxes. Reuters reports that the agency will lose about a third of its budget over the next two years. The Houston Chronicle has an overview of how Perry’s choices as governor contributed to the Forest Service’s financial woes. According to KVUE News, volunteer fire departments, which service most of the state, are also in a tight spot after the state reduced their funding from $30 million to $7 million this year.

Skeptical stance on global warming:

Perry has long expressed doubts about the science behind climate change. This week, he accused climate scientists of manipulating data for profit and claimed that a growing number of scientists question whether man-made global warming is really creating climate change. The Washington Post's Fact Checker found the claims to merit a full four Pinocchios: Perry “has every right to be a skeptic—all scientific theories should be carefully scrutinized—but that does not give him carte blanche to simply make things up.”

Scandals and controversy (updated Oct. 3, 2011):

Dallas Morning News investigations over the past two years have detailed some questionable financial transactions between Perry and his political allies. According to a July 2010 story, Perry made as much as $500,000 in a real-estate sale that raises questions about “favoritism, backroom dealing and influence-buying.” Perry’s staff responded that the deals were perfectly appropriate and legal.

The newspaper also reported that Perry gave more than $16 million in Emerging Technology Fund grants to companies with executives or investors who’d contributed to his campaign. More recently, the Los Angeles Times took a broader look at the perks that Perry’s major donors have received during his time as governor. Perry denied that politics influenced how he awarded the technology grants, and his aides told the Times that his donors don’t get special perks.

Bloomberg News has also reported on other cases where Perry allegedly gave contracts and permits to his big donors. In one instance, a Texas billionaire was given a permit for a radioactive waste dump over the objection of some state officials. Perry denies that there was any favoritism involved in the process of awarding contracts.

Controversy also surrounded the appointment of a former Perry aide to lead the Texas Deptartment of Transportation, as the Dallas Morning News reports. Phil Wilson, who served as Texas secretary of state for one year, will be the first non-engineer to hold the position in nearly a century. He’s slated to make $292,500 a year—$100,000 more than the last chief, making him one of the highest-paid Texas officials. The Dallas Morning News notes:

[T]he new salary is more than $100,000 more than what Texas pays the executive in charge of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the commissioner of the Texas Education Commissioner or the Texas Attorney General, who is paid $150,000.

Four Texas Transportation Commissioners, all appointed by Perry, voted to hire Wilson and to petition the Legislative Budget Board to further increase his salary down the line.

Though a panel of experts recently called for someone with more business experience to head the Department of Transportation, critics argue that the appointment, and the salary attached to it, is a case of Perry rewarding his friends and increasing his influence over the department. 

The Dallas Morning News also reported on Perry’s close political ties with the people behind a bank he uses for his campaign funds. Though Perry has been highly critical of the 2008 bank bailout, he does some of his most important banking with an institution that received $87 million in TARP money and took nearly three years to pay it back.

Perry has also been criticized for a lack of transparency. He has declined to release key documents related to the awarding of the grants. His office also regularly purges staff email accounts.

Perry was also sued by his 2006 Democratic challenger, Chris Bell, for allegedly breaking Texas campaign disclosure law. Bell’s lawyers accuse Perry of accepting a $500,000 donation that was funneled to him from homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation) through the Republican Governors Association. Perry settled with Bell for $426,000 last year. Both Perry and the Republican Governors Association deny any wrongdoing.

Perry is also accused of allowing death-row inmate Cameron Todd Willingham to be executed despite evidence that Willingham may have been wrongfully convicted. The New Yorker has a gripping narrative of the case, and the Texas Observer details how Perry helped limit an investigation that followed. A Perry spokesperson told The New Yorker that “the governor made his decision based on the facts of the case.”

Yet another controversy involves the historical, and offensive, name of the Perry family hunting camp—“Niggerhead.” A detailed Washington Post story on the use of the name at the camp sent Perry’s team into damage-control mode.

According to Perry, the word was written on a rock at the entrance to the ranch well before his family first started leasing the property in 1983. Perry says his father painted over it in 1983 or 1984, though his account contradicts the memories of more than two dozen others who visited the ranch in the 1980s and 1990s. Since 1989, the NAACP has lobbied for similar names to be removed from Texas properties.

The HPV vaccine controversy (updated Sept. 14, 2011):

Perry came under fire in 2007 for issuing an executive order that mandated sixth-grade girls to get vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, a common sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical and other types of cancer. Though the order allowed parents to opt-out on their daughters’ behalf, it prompted an outcry among religious conservatives concerned that getting the vaccine would encourage promiscuity, and it was ultimately overturned by the state legislature.

At the Tea-Party sponsored debate in Tampa this week, Michele Bachmann slammed Perry for violating “a liberty interest” by proposing that young girls be forced to get the vaccine. From a public-health perspective, experts say that Perry’s decision was actually a sound one. The New Yorker’s Michael Specter points out that doctors recommend girls get the HPV vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12, and that there is no data to suggest that getting the vaccine at a young age makes people any more likely to have sex than those who don’t. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 6.2 million Americans are infected with HPV each year, and most of the 12,000 American women who get cervical cancer each year contract it through HPV. 

After Perry signed the executive order, concerns were also raised about his financial ties to Merck, the maker of the HPV vaccine Gardasil. In 2007, the Associated Press and others reported that Perry received $6,000 from Merck’s political action committee during his 2006 reelection campaign.

During this week’s debate, Perry said that Merck’s donation was a small amount in the grand scheme of his 2006 campaign, and that it had no influence on his decision. But, as the Washington Post reported, campaign disclosure forms show that Merck’s PAC has actually given Perry nearly $30,000 since 2000. Since 2006, Merck has also donated over $380,000 to the Republican Governors Association. Perry has played an active role in the association for years, and it remains one of his biggest donors. 

Politico’s Ben Smith obtained 700 internal emails from Perry’s office related to the HPV decision. The emails suggest that Perry wasn’t actively involved in discussions about implementing his proposal.

How to follow Perry developments in real time:

The Morning News has a feed dedicated to Perry coverage and a Perry Watchers list. You can also follow veteran Perry reporters on Twitter: Evan Smith (@evanasmith) and Jay Root (@byjayroot) of the Texas Tribune, and Paul Burka (@paulburka) and Jake Silverstein (@jakesilverstein) of Texas Monthly.

Following the money—and diving deeper:

The Texas Tribune has stats on his performance in past campaigns and financial statements going back to 1993. If you want to dig more into the coverage, several Texas publications have set up Perry resource pages, including the Texas Observer, Texas Monthly, the Texas Tribune and the Dallas Morning News.

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