Texas, as Amanda Marcotte artfully put it, "is a really big state with a lot of different people in it"—something people often forget when they write about Texas politics. Along the same lines, Rick Perry is a long-serving governor who has done a lot of different things. Many of those things are questionable—his support for the repeal of the 16th and 17th Amendments, for instance, or his penchant for hooking up big-time donors with jobs and contracts.
But some of the stuff he's done has been pretty good. Over at the excellent blog Grits for Breakfast, Scott Henson (who I spoke with for my story on Perry's dubious prison health care privatization scheme) has a helpful roundup of some Perry-approved reforms, mostly on the criminal justice front, that progressives might actually like:
2001: Signed bill requiring local law enforcement to gather racial profiling data, including information on stops and searches. Authority was later given to a state agency to gather them all and publish them online.
2001: Became the first governor to sign the DREAM Act allowing children of illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state rates.
And so on. More recently, he's signed some pretty progressive sentencing legislation designed to prevent overcrowding in state jails (by about 17,000 beds), and placing a greater emphasis on treatment versus incarceration for drug users. If this seems incongruous, there's a method to it all.
"Perry will focus his energies on supporting policies if, number one, it's not controversial, or number two, somebody who has been directly impacted manages to get his attention," explains Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. "So for example you have the Tim Cole family [Cole was posthumously pardoned by Perry after being executed for a crime he didn't commit]. Well, his family had talked to the governor so it hit home for him... The same thing for the DREAM Act kids. In 2001, Texas was the first state to pass a DREAM Act version and Perry has defended his stance on the DREAM Act. But he's actually seen these kids that are valedictorians. So if it hits home to him...he'll be like, 'okay, let's do it."
There might be something to that. As one longtime Perry-watcher explained to Jonathan Martin for his SEO-optimized "Is Rick Perry Dumb?" story, the GOP frontrunner has a pretty linear approach to knowledge: "If he should know about John Locke, he'll know about John Locke... If it's not on his schedule, it's irrelevant to him." The difficulty is in getting him to pay attention.
On the other hand, given Perry's widely condemned record on the death penalty (presiding over the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was likely innocent, and then squashing the ensuing investigation), and his cozy relationship with private prison lobbyists (see here and here), these bright spots on criminal justice do have a sort of "How was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" quality to them.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has presided over more executions than any governor in modern American history.
Update: On Monday afternoon, despite a late push for a retrial from a prosecutor who helped convicted him, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Duane Buck's petition for clemency. Buck will be executed as scheduled on Thursday, unless Perry or the district attorney intervene to grant a 30-day stay of execution. This post was originally published on September 2 and updated on September 13 with new information.
Update II (September 15): On Thursday evening the US Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of execution, giving it time to review the case, Reuters reported.
A Texas inmate sentenced to death—in a racially charged case that now-Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said was inappropriately decided—has petitioned Gov. Rick Perry and his state parole board for clemency, giving the GOP presidential candidate two days to decide whether to commute the sentence or grant a temporary stay of execution. Last week, one of the Harris County prosecutors who helped secure Buck's conviction wrote a letter to Perry urging him to grant a retrial. In 10 years as governor, Perry has presided over 234 executions, more than any other governor in modern history; only once has he granted clemency in a case where the Supreme Court hasn't already mandated it. Now, just as he steps onto the national stage, Perry will have to make what looks like a tough call—with GOP primary voters watching.
The inmate, Duane Edward Buck, is set to be executed by lethal injection on September 15 for murdering two people at the home of his ex-girlfriend in 1995. The issue at hand isn't Buck's innocence, but the means by which his death sentence was obtained. Prosecutors firmly established Buck's guilt, but to secure a capital punishment conviction in Texas they needed to prove "future dangerousness"—that is, provide compelling evidence that Buck posed a serious threat to society if he were ever to walk free. They did so in part with the testimony of a psychologist, Dr. Walter Quijano, who testified that Buck's race (he's African American) made him more likely to commit crimes in the future. (Quijano answered in the affirmative to the question of whether "the race factor, [being] black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons.")
"Don't tell anyone what I told you, okay?" According to two GOP congressmen, President Obama has a secret plan to steal the 2012 election.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) believes he's uncovered President Obama's secret plan to win next fall's presidential election: Grant citizenship to millions of undocumented residents with the expectation that they'll check his name at the ballot box come 2012. He's not alone; Rep. Louie Gohmert floated a similar conspiracy theory last week, telling Fox News that Obama would attempt to steal the election through some combination of massive voter fraud and blanket amnesty.
Here's what Coffman told Denver's Caplis & Silverman radio show last month:
There's another piece of this puzzle. What the Administration is doing, is taking a very aggressive move in the people that have illegal status and moving them through citizenship and waving all the fees and waving anything they can to get the process done in time for 2012. That's something I would love to see the media focus on.
Mercy! Expect to hear a lot more talk like this over the next 12 months, as right-wing media outlets shift into overdrive in the run-up to the election. The same thing transpired with ACORN in 2008 when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) famously declared that we are "on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." (We're still here.)
Mike Toomey (left) and Rick Perry (right) have been friends since they entered the Texas House together in 1985.
In 2010, private corrections lobbyists gave Texas Governor Rick Perry $100,000 during his re-election campaign, and then Perry went on to push a series of proposals that would have privatized the prison health care system and neutered the commission tasked with oversight of the nation's second-largest inmate population—all in the name of austerity. That's the basic gist of my story today.
But what's also noteworthy about the story is who it involves—specifically, Perry's former chief of staff Mike Toomey, who is now a lobbyist for the nation's largest private prison firm. He was also a lobbyist for Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the political juggernaut that has poured millions into Perry's campaigns and helped secure business-friendly tort reform in the state. Last month he started Make Us Great Again, a super PAC designed expressly to support the Governor's presidential run. Toomey was the lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant Merck when Perry signed a controversial executive order mandating that adolescent girls receive a Merck vaccine against HPV. If you don't follow Texas politics, you probably don't know him, but he's had an outsized influence on Perry's rise.
I recommend reading Patricia Kilday Hart's profile of Toomey in Texas Monthly in 2003, back when Toomey was the Governor's chief of staff. Here's a snippet:
A common complaint heard around the Capitol is that Toomey "hasn't taken off his lobby hat"—meaning that as Perry's chief of staff, he continues to argue positions favorable to his former clients, especially [Texans for Lawsuit Reform]. Toomey was ready with his answer when I raised the point in our interview: "I have two responses to that. First of all, I didn't have any client that I didn't agree with philosophically about what they were doing. Just go through my client list. I don't have clients I disagree with." The second rebuttal was that he delegates issues on which he has lobbied previously to other staffers. As an example, he said he sent representatives of SBC Communications (Southwestern Bell) to an assistant, who could take the company's concerns directly to the governor, since Toomey himself had worked as a lobbyist for its competitor, AT&T...
Toomey's involvement on behalf of his former clients might become a major problem if he returns to lobbying for them, but Williamson says that is unlikely. He and other friends predict that Toomey will return to electoral politics, running for a statewide office like comptroller, or alternatively, go to work for a conservative advocacy foundation.
Under the banner of closing the state's $27 billion deficit last winter, Texas Gov. Rick Perry floated a proposal to privatize the state's prison health care network. Whether the plan would actually save the state any money was a matter of debate, but one thing was clear: The move would have been a boon for private-prison executives and lobbyists, including Perry's former chief of staff, who had donated generously to his 2010 reelection campaign.
The plan met bipartisan resistance in the state Legislature, but it was just one of a handful of recent proposals by Perry's office that would have benefited the industry—all in the name of deficit reduction.
Private prisons are a big business in Texas, where the combination of federal immigration policies and one of the nation's largest inmate populations has led to a boom in construction over the last two decades. As governor, Perry, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, has supported privatizing everything from public lands to highways, but according to Scott Henson, a criminal-justice watchdog who runs the blog Grits for Breakfast, the governor had remained largely quiet on the prisons issue—until this year.