Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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"Hate Group" Affiliates Take Millions in Government Pork

| Mon Aug. 22, 2011 12:01 PM EDT
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins

Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent has a good report this morning on how the state affiliates of the Family Research Council have quietly taken in nearly $6 million in government funding (state and federal) over the last five years. The FRC is a leading social conservative organization that's been labeled a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center on account of its use of debunked and misleading arguments against gay rights (one FRC spokesman suggested it wouldn't be a bad idea if gays just left the country entirely). The organization and its satellites have hit Democrats hard for spending too much, but, as Birkey reports, a chunk of that spending has actually gone to the FRC's network.

For instance:

The Family Action Council of Tennessee received $10,000 from the state of Tennessee to host anti-pornography workshop in 2008. FACT supports cutting government spending. They also insinuate that the poor should pay more. "It seems to me that a major problem in Washington is that right at 50 percent of Americans no longer pay federal taxes," wrote the group's head David Fowler.

"Sexually oriented businesses often prey upon urban communities and those located along interstate routes and major state highways, especially where there are few zoning restrictions," the group said on the event invite. "Adult businesses are now pursuing their agenda through their own state association and have a lobbyist promoting their interests at the state Capitol. This is not an 'industry' your community can afford to ignore."

The hypocrisy angle strikes me as a bit off. The FRC and its network aren't calling for an end to government spending altogether—they're calling for an end to what they consider to be the wrong kind of government spending, which is anything that reeks of the nanny state. There are several reasons for that, but basically, they worry that government is in competition with the church and the family, and that government assistance programs have a perverse impact on Americans' morals. But by extension, funding that helps support "pro-family" organizations would actually be a pretty good thing in the FRC's book.

The larger issue is that state and federal agencies are dolling out cash to an organization that believes church-state watchdogs are "cultural terrorists" and that Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign, designed to combat gay teen suicides, is "disgusting." And unlike, say, the food stamp program, which wouldn't exist without a bureaucracy to manage it, holding seminars on the evils of pornography to already persuaded audiences is exactly what the Family Action Council of Tennessee would be doing, with or without that $10,000 government check.

For more, I'd suggest you consult anti-anti-smut activist and former Miami mayoral candidate Luther Campbell: 

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Rick Perry vs. The Trial Lawyers

| Mon Aug. 22, 2011 10:00 AM EDT
The Torts and the Hair: Texas Governor Rick Perry has made tort reform a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

Politico's Alexander Burns reports today that trial lawyers are gearing up for a major fundraising effort against Texas Governor Rick Perry, should he win the GOP presidential nomination:

Among litigators, there is no presidential candidate who inspires the same level of hatred — and fear — as Perry, an avowed opponent of the plaintiffs’ bar who has presided over several rounds of tort reform as governor...

That's a potential financial boon to [Obama] who has unsettled trial lawyers with his own rhetorical gestures in the direction of tort reform. A general election pitting Barack Obama against Perry could turn otherwise apathetic trial lawyers into a phalanx of pro-Obama bundlers and super PAC donors.

"If this guy emerges, if he's a serious candidate, if he doesn't blow up in the next couple weeks, it's going to motivate many in the plaintiffs' bar to dig deeper to support President Obama," said Sean Coffey, a former securities litigator who ran for attorney general of New York last year. "That will end up driving a lot of money to the Democratic side."

So that's the horse-race element of it. The larger battle here, which my colleague Stephanie Mencimer literally wrote the book about, is that conservatives and their business interests have for decades attempted to demonize trial lawyers for multiple reasons, none of which really involve your best interests. Perry makes a tort reform a major part of his stump speech; it's one of the four steps he would take as president to turn the economy around, along with lower taxes, fewer regulations, and reduced spending. And, to his credit I suppose, he has made it a priority in Texas so at least he's consistent. But as Kevin Drum points out, Perry's crusade against frivolous lawsuits has really just made it harder for people with legitimate claims to file suit, without offering the return on investment (lower health care costs, primarily) it purports to deliver.

Here Are 6 Stories You Must Read About Rick Perry

| Sat Aug. 20, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced last week he would seek the GOP's presidential nomination.

Rick Perry's first week on the campaign trail was, it's pretty safe to say, an eventful one. Last Saturday, the Texas governor officially entered the GOP presidential race with a pledge to make "Washington, DC, as inconsequential in your life as I can." On Sunday, he alleged that the United States military does not respect President Obama. On Monday, he threatened to murder (or something) the Republican-appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve. On Wednesday, he blew the whistle on an international conspiracy by climatologists to secure more money for research grants. On Thursday, he disclosed that the earth was "pretty old" and that creationism should be taught in public schools.

Perry, Texas' governor since the last days of the Clinton administration, has taken the race by storm, soaring to the top of the polls in Iowa and throwing conservatives into a tizzy as to whether he's really cut out to lead the Republican party forward. So who is Rick Perry, anyway—and what has he done to Texas?

We combed the Internet to bring you our favorite deep dives on the GOP's new pony—and the people and events that made him. Enjoy:

"Trial by Fire," David Grann, The New Yorker: Cameron Todd Willingham was executed via lethal injection in 2004 for murdering his wife and three kids via arson. There was one serious problem: It now appears almost certain that Willingham was innocent. Perry, who presided over more executions than any governor in modern American history, declined to grant a stay to Willingham when presented with evidence that his case had been mishandled and key evidence was ignored. When the Texas Forensic Science Commission seemed on the verge of concluding that the fire might not have been arson after all (after taking the unprecedented step of re-examining the case), Perry promptly replaced three of its members. Grann painstakingly details the 12-year process by which Texas, under Perry's watch, killed an innocent man—and the effort he took to sweep it under the rug. The New Republic's Jonathan Chait calls this piece, "the single greatest piece of journalism I have ever read in my life." See also: "Innocence Lost," Pamela Colloff, Texas Monthly—in which a reporter succeeds in freeing a man who spent 18 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit.

"The NAFTA Superhighway," Chris Hayes, The Nation: "When completed, the highway will run from Mexico City to Toronto, slicing through the heartland like a dagger sunk into a heifer at the loins and pulled clean to the throat. It will be four football fields wide, an expansive gully of concrete, noise and exhaust, swelled with cars, trucks, trains and pipelines carrying water, wires and God knows what else. Through towns large and small it will run, plowing under family farms, subdevelopments, acres of wilderness."

At least, that's how Hayes' conspiracy theorists—which include the Montana Legislature and at least one member of Congress—saw it. Hayes cuts through the myths surrounding the Trans-Texas Corridor, one of Perry's most ambitious and controversial proposals in his decade as governor—and one that helped spawn a conservative insurrection in the 2010 gubernatorial primary.

"Bob Perry Needs a Hug," S.C. Gwynne, Texas Monthly: No one in America has given more money to Rick Perry over the last decade than Texas homebuilder and Swift Boat financier Bob Perry (no relation): $2.5 million. Perry the builder, whose business success is heavily dependent on cheap immigrant labor, is widely seen as a driving force behind the governor's relatively moderate approach to curbing undocumented immigration. Gov. Perry has been accused of being a corporatist and not an ideologue; his relationship with Bob Perry is a testament to that.

"Revisionaries," Mariah Blake, Washington Monthly: Texas public schools don't officially push creationism on students as Perry suggests, but it's not for lack of effort. Blake profiles one of Perry's most controversial appointments, his selection of a creationist dentist to chair the State Board of Education, tasked with setting the curriculum standards for classrooms across the state.

Don McLeroy is a balding, paunchy man with a thick broom-handle mustache who lives in a rambling two-story brick home in a suburb near Bryan, Texas. When he greeted me at the door one evening last October, he was clutching a thin paperback with the skeleton of a seahorse on its cover, a primer on natural selection penned by famed evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr. We sat down at his dining table, which was piled high with three-ring binders, and his wife, Nancy, brought us ice water in cut-crystal glasses with matching coasters. Then McLeroy cracked the book open…

"Rick Perry's Army of God," Forrest Wilder, Texas Observer: Before he announced his run for president Rick Perry held a massive prayer and fasting festival at an NFL stadium in Houston. You may have heard. Wilder provides valuable background on Perry's allies on the religious right—specifically a radical new movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation.

On September 28, 2009, at 1:40 p.m., God's messengers visited Rick Perry. On this day, the Lord's messengers arrived in the form of two Texas pastors, Tom Schlueter of Arlington and Bob Long of San Marcos, who called on Perry in the governor's office inside the state Capitol. Schlueter and Long both oversee small congregations, but they are more than just pastors. They consider themselves modern-day apostles and prophets, blessed with the same gifts as Old Testament prophets or New Testament apostles. The pastors told Perry of God's grand plan for Texas. A chain of powerful prophecies had proclaimed that Texas was "The Prophet State," anointed by God to lead the United States into revival and Godly government. And the governor would have a special role.

"Right Place, Right Time," Paul Burka, Texas Monthly: This one's politics, plain and simple. Burka, one of Texas' most respected political analysts, explains what makes Perry tick, and makes the compelling case that the governor has been preparing for his presidential run for years.

Most people who follow Texas politics know by now the conventional wisdom about Perry: that he is an accidental governor who inherited the job when George W. Bush became president; that he is "Governor Goodhair" or "Governor 39 Percent" or some similar appellation of mild disrespect accompanied by a twist of humor; that he doesn’t really do anything well except win elections, which he has done with regularity. There is truth in the conventional wisdom, but there is also blindness. Perry has been so often viewed as a caricature that many Texans have failed to recognize his talent.

Rick Perry Accidentally Speaks Truth on Evolution Education

| Fri Aug. 19, 2011 12:42 PM EDT
Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Texas Governor Rick Perry caused a hulabaloo this week when he revealed to the campaign press what Texans have known for a decade: He's really not that into science. Evolution, he told a 9-year-old New Hampshire boy on Thursday, is just "a theory that's out there," which is why, "in Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools." That came just one day after Perry revealed that the world's climatologist are engaged in a sweeping conspiracy to manipulate data to "keep the money rolling in."

But the GOP presidential candidate, who once appointed a creationist dentist (and fellow Aggie) to head the State Board of Education, has long been a public opponent of evolution, both in his policies and his rhetoric. As he explained last year, "I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution."

According to Supreme Court, public schools cannot teach creationism as science, and according to the state's most curriculum standards they're not supposed to either—which makes Perry's statement that Texas schools do teach creationism all the more noteworthy. Over at the Texas ObserverForrest Wilder recounts the governor's history of appointing ... let's say "scientifically-disoriented" officials to scientifically-oriented agencies like the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and then offers some personal experience:

Regardless of what the official curriculum is, there are teachers in Texas who do teach creationism. I know, because I had a teacher that did so in my Central Texas high school. She proudly displayed a bumper sticker on her podium that read something like, "Big Bang Theory: God Said 'Bang' and There it Was." Her students picked up on her creationist catch-phrases—"Can't make a chain out of missing links"—and took pity on us in the AP biology class, where evolution was taught as the cornerstone of biology.

Maybe this is what Rick Perry meant when he said "we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools." Creationism *is* taught occasionally; it's just that it's not supposed to be.

And then there's this, from PolitiFact:

Penn State University political scientist Eric Plutzer, who helped conduct a 2007 national survey of more than 950 science teachers in 49 states, including Texas, told us in an interview that in any state 10 percent to 20 percent of science teachers are "endorsing creationism in their classrooms, often devoting one to four class hours to creationism over the course of the year."

A synopsis of the survey, published in the Jan. 27, 2011, issue of Science magazine, says a "sizable number of teachers expose their students to all positions — scientific or not."

Plutzer told us: "One thing you can be certain of is that large numbers of public school science teachers in Texas are endorsing creationism."

Right. Chiding Perry on the facts in this case misses the point, because Perry wasn't revealing his ignorance; he was accidentally speaking the truth. Perry knows you can't put creationism in textbooks outright—Kitzmiller v. Dover took care of that—but the education agenda he supported was designed to achieve the same ends through a more roundabout process of enabling teachers to shoot holes in biology or making them so nervous about the subject that they avoid teaching evolution entirely.

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